TAMPA — Austin Seferian-Jenkins is still only 22, with all the wisdom that comes with 10 career NFL games, but he has perspective on the debut of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston in Sunday's loss to the Titans.
"He's a great player, an amazing player, (but) you are a rookie. It's the first game," the Bucs' second-year tight end said this week. "Not everything always is going to go the way you want. … That's the great thing about football. It's very similar to life. You think it's going to work out this way and it doesn't. … It's not what happened to you but how you react to it."
Seferian-Jenkins might have been the bright spot in last week's 42-14 loss, enjoying a breakout game with five catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. In one game, he matched his scoring production for his entire rookie season, catching Winston's first two career touchdown passes.
As the Bucs go back to New Orleans to play the Saints on Sunday, Seferian-Jenkins is reminded of his rookie mistakes last year.
"Don't be late for the bus," he said, asked what he takes from last year's game, when he was late leaving the team hotel and had just one catch for 11 yards in 60 snaps, with a 15-yard facemask penalty early in the game.
"A tough loss. We had them on the ropes," said Seferian-Jenkins, recalling an 11-point Bucs lead with 10 minutes left before New Orleans got a touchdown, safety and field goal late to force overtime, then marched downfield for a touchdown to win.
Drafted in the second round in 2014, Seferian-Jenkins' rookie year was limited by foot and back injuries; his best moments were also his worst.
He scored a go-ahead touchdown with two minutes left against the Vikings, but that was overshadowed by a celebration penalty against him that helped the Vikings get in field-goal range to force overtime.
On the first play of overtime, Seferian-Jenkins fumbled and saw the Vikings return the fumble for a winning touchdown.
Tight ends coach Jon Embree said he has seen a difference in Seferian-Jenkins since the end of last season, when he missed the final five games with a back injury. He "changed a lot of habits" — taking care of his body to help prevent injuries, shifting his weight, finding maturity and working smarter, learning the importance of time spent away from the practice field.
Embree was pleased to see Seferian-Jenkins' production in the opener, not even as a sign of things to come, but as a sign that his commitment was paying off.
"I'm pleased he gets to see the results of his hard work," Embree said. "Sometimes when you're grinding and you have someone like me grinding on you and you don't get results right away, it's hard to keep the faith."
Seferian-Jenkins also has built a bond with Winston, a connection that could grow as both gain experience this season. And just as Seferian-Jenkins is emerging in his second year, he's confident about Winston making big leaps as a rookie.
"I think there is no doubt in this building that he's going to come out and play and practice and work hard like he always does," Seferian-Jenkins said. "One game does not diminish the excitement in this locker room and this organization for this player."
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By no means is Seferian-Jenkins a finished product, but Sunday's breakout game is a promising start. The franchise record for touchdown catches by a tight end in a season is eight, set by Jimmie Giles in 1985, and Embree stresses that Seferian-Jenkins will only get better as he continues to mature as a player.
"We still have a long ways to go, but he's gotten a lot better with a lot of little things. He's getting there," he said. "He played well, but he definitely had a lot of room for improvement in some areas."
Contact Greg Auman at email@example.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.