TAMPA — For the past five seasons, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston stepped to the podium following every game -- win or lose, good or bad -- to praise or defend teammates and take responsibility for his mistakes.
After a win, the smile was big. He praised his teammates. You’re quickly reminded why his supporters love him.
After the losses? Some of them seem to mesh together, especially the ones that are a result of his own errant passes.
But as Winston passed his way to the first 30-touchdown, 30-interception season in league history, his last two postgame pressers offered intriguing theater — and two very different sides of Winston.
Winston’s tone on Dec. 21 was serious, somber, almost apologetic and undoubtedly accountable after he threw four interceptions — one on his first pass and another on his last — sending the Bucs to a 23-20 home loss to Houston.
“Just can’t do it, I’ve got the snap and clear mentality, but I can’t do it,” Winston said of throwing interceptions on two of his first four throws.
Winston said some version of “I can’t continue to turn over the football” 13 times in that press conference during which he insisted that when he plays turnover-free football “I’m going to be a good quarterback, a great quarterback.”
Something significant shifted inside the Raymond James Stadium interview room Sunday.
It started with head coach Bruce Arians’ comments after Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones intercepted Winston’s final pass of 2019 and returned it for a touchdown to give Atlanta a 28-22 overtime victory over the Bucs.
After weeks of offering explanations and alibis for Winston’s interceptions, Arians’ responses Sunday were more harsh and frank.
On Winston’s 2019 body of work: “There’s so much good and so much outright terrible.”
On whether Winston has done enough to merit a new contract: “Got to wait and see.”
On how much it hurt to lose that way: “It smells as bad as it could possibly smell, and it’ll smell that way for a long time.”
Minutes later, Winston stepped to the podium with a noticeably different demeanor. Teammates often praise his fight, that he keeps battling no matter what. But when Winston could play no more, could do no more talking about next week, his responses to questions became defensive.
He scoffed at a question asking for specifics in terms of what he needs to correct.
“We all know, c’mon,” Winston said. “We all know what we’ve got to fix. There’s no reason for me to be specific. You look at my numbers and I’m ballin'. I’ve got to stop giving the ball to the other team. That’s not a trick question.”
Two questions later, when asked whether he’s worried that the turnovers will be the reason the Bucs wouldn’t bring him back, Winston said, “That’s the last thing on my mind.”
“I’m focused on how I can get better, because I know if I eliminate those, I’m going to be the best,” Winston continued. “So that’s bar none. You better check your sheet. If I eliminate those, I’m going to be the best.”
"I know I'm confident in my ability," he also said. "I know I'm going to ball and I know I'm going to fix my mistakes. I know that for a fact. But (my return) is in God's hands and it's in (the Bucs') hands."
Winston has never lacked confidence. That bravado has both helped and hurt him over the course of his career, but saying that he’s “ballin'” and telling people to check the stat sheet was ill-timed.
Nationally, it became a sound bite that portrays Winston as delusional. He might not have meant it the way it came out, but he’s been on the podium enough to know how it will be interpreted.
On Monday, Arians, who was in large part hired to help Winston avoid turnovers, continued his straight talk.
On whether the Bucs could win with another quarterback, “With another quarterback? Oh yeah. We can win with this one, we can definitely win with another one, too, 'cause we’re going to have a defense.”
On his message to Bucs fans: "When we quit beating ourselves and then we’ll be hard to beat.”
On what’s he’s learned about his quarterback. “He’s a very bright, hard-working quarterback. He puts his time in.”
Not a ringing endorsement for a return.
Said Arians, “Stay tuned.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.