TAMPA — Shelton Quarles played linebacker for 10 years in the NFL, and the former Buc never got run over by a quarterback. Not by Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, Brett Favre or Donovan McNabb.
That was until the waning seconds of the Bucs' 22-19 loss at Carolina on Sunday.
As the Bucs' director of football operations, Quarles was standing on the sideline when quarterback Jameis Winston was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the game. After leaving the field, Winston shot back onto it like he wanted a piece of referee Jerome Boger, and when Quarles tried to stop him, Winston pushed Quarles out of his way.
Quarles would've had an expensive dry cleaning bill had backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick not been there to give him a soft shoulder pad to fall back on. Fortunately for Winston, he hit the emergency brakes after getting only about 10 yards onto the field.
It all began when Winston was sacked for the sixth time and fumbled with about 30 seconds remaining in the game.
Winston believed he had recovered the fumble, but Boger said defensive end Julius Peppers had possession first and awarded the ball to Carolina. Game over.
That's when Winston went nuttier than Planters.
He had to be held back by teammates. He was escorted to the sideline by coach Dirk Koetter. Winston ripped off his helmet looking for the head he had just lost.
"Because I had the ball. That's the only reason, man,'' Winston said later. "Fought hard, I had the ball, they gave it to them, so that's the only reason.''
It's not the first time we've seen Winston visit the cuckoo's nest.
Remember what happened in New Orleans last month? Winston aggravated a shoulder injury and was forced to leave the game. He started jawing with Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore and eventually poked him in the back of the helmet.
Mike Evans saw only a piece of the skirmish and hit Lattimore blindside in the back. The Bucs' star receiver got a one-game suspension, costing him a game check. Winston was fined $12,154.
A year ago, Winston head-butted a Cowboys defensive lineman.
Some would call Winston's outbursts the result of passion. Others might say that at 23 and in his third year in the league, he has maturing to do. Both are correct.
Mostly, it's frustration from Winston. If the Bucs don't beat the Saints in Sunday's season finale, Winston will have lost his past nine starts.
Winston is a big reason for that. He lost three more fumbles at Carolina, but two came during the Panthers' six sacks.
Stay updated on the Buccaneers
Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
But here's the thing: If you're looking for reasons why the Bucs are 4-11 this season, Winston should be among the last on your list.
He never should've played three games with a shoulder injury. But you see what he can do when he's feeling healthy. The past two games, Winston has had at least a 130 passer rating. He has set a club record for the most 300-yard passing games in a season with five (and had 299 yards in another one).
Winston has a higher completion percentage and passer rating than Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota. His 64 touchdown passes ties Hall of Famer and former Dolphins great Dan Marino for the most in the NFL before his 24th birthday.
"That guy's a warrior,'' Koetter said.
The best thing any team can have is a quarterback who is the most competitive player on the roster. That's what the Bucs have in Winston. He sets the tone for the whole organization.
After the game, Winston apologized to Boger. He told Quarles he was sorry. Then he walked over to Peppers, who, Winston said, told him the call was bad and Winston had recovered the ball.
This is how the conversation should've gone:
Peppers: "I never had the ball.''
Winston: "Hold my beer.''
After the game, with the locker room closed to the media, Bucs radio picked up screaming and yelling among teammates.
There are a lot of suspects.
But one way or another, with a six-game losing streak, Winston probably got his point across.
vs. Saints, 4:25 Sunday, Raymond James Stadium
TV/radio: Fox; 97.9-FM
Line/OU: Saints by 71/2; 50