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Losing fumbles a league-worst problem for Jameis Winston

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jameis Winston (3) fumbles the ball as he his hit by Carolina Panthers' Mario Addison (97) during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017. The Panthers recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone) NCCB149
Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jameis Winston (3) fumbles the ball as he his hit by Carolina Panthers' Mario Addison (97) during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017. The Panthers recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone) NCCB149
Published Dec. 28, 2017

is interception rate is down 35 percent from last season, and his quarterback rating is 10 points higher.

Offsetting that, however, is this problem: For the second year in a row, Winston is tied for the league lead in lost fumbles.

Fumbling is a relatively new problem for Winston. He had 28 interceptions in his two years at Florida State but lost only four fumbles in 27 games. His rookie season with the Bucs, he lost only two fumbles.

But in his past two seasons, without a consistent running game to take some of the offensive burden off him, Winston has an NFL-high 25 fumbles, including 15 this season. He also has had a share of the league lead in fumbles lost each of the past two seasons: Last season it was six, and this season, despite missing three games, it is seven.

"It's still as catastrophic for your team, still puts you in a real bind," offensive coordinator Todd Monken said of Winston's fumbling compared with throwing interceptions. "The things you like about Jameis are the way he extends plays, the competitive nature that he has about him.

"With that being said … obviously it's a point of emphasis every week. It's something that has stopped us, like any turnover, from scoring as much as we've needed to score."

Sunday's game at Carolina is a prime example. Winston reset his game record for completion percentage for the second straight week and threw for 367 yards without an interception. But he lost three fumbles, including two on the first three drives, one on a sack and one off a bad snap from center.

"I definitely have to hold on to the ball, in terms of fumbling," Winston said Thursday. "I've got to stop fumbling. My job is to protect the football. No matter what happens, I have to hold on to the football."

Having 13 fumbles lost in two seasons is a significant number. No other Bucs player has had more than five in a season in the past decade. Winston had only two fumbles in the first eight games he played in this year, but he has five in the past four games, including one that was returned 62 yards for a touchdown in a close loss at Green Bay.

"Possession of the ball is the most important thing," coach Dirk Koetter said. "There's no question about that. It's a high number of sacks on the quarterback that turn into fumbles across the league. … I think part of that is experience and learning: If I'm not getting the ball out in time, sometimes I have to go into self-preservation mode. I think that's something Jameis will continue to work on as time goes on."

Winston closes the season Sunday against a Saints defense that is tied with the Bucs for the second-most forced fumbles in the NFL at 19. Koetter said some fumbles are a necessary evil of playing quarterback but he'll focus on Winston limiting avoidable turnovers, made when the quarterback is extending a play too far rather than taking a loss without losing the ball.

"The biggest one that Jameis has to correct moving forward is the one where he's got guys hanging on him and he's still trying to make a play," Koetter said. "Has he made plays like that? Yes, he has. But the risk-reward there just isn't high enough."

Contact Greg Auman at gauman@tampabay.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

Up next

Season finale

vs. Saints, 4:25 Sunday, Raymond James Stadium

TV/radio: Fox; 97.9-FM

Line/OU: Saints by 61/2 ; 491/2