Bucs being patient with interception-prone Winston

Jameis Winston has thrown seven interceptions in his first four NFL games.
Jameis Winston has thrown seven interceptions in his first four NFL games.
Published Oct. 8, 2015

TAMPA — The Bucs' giddy anticipation has turned to exasperation regarding the play of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.

The former Florida State standout entered the league with the reputation of being prone to interceptions. He has done nothing to dispel that label after a wobbly 1-3 start.

Over the first month, Winston didn't handle the pressure cooker, passing for six touchdowns and seven interceptions, including four picks and a lost fumble in Sunday's 37-23 loss to the Panthers. For the second straight game at Raymond James Stadium, his first pass attempt resulted in a pick six.

But offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter says it's too early to paint Winston as a turnover machine.

"Playing in college is not playing in the NFL," Koetter said Wednesday. "It's just different animals. Did we throw too many interceptions in this game? Yes. Can we base the whole rest of Jameis' career on that? No.

"Unfortunately, when you have four interceptions, there's a lot of explaining to do. We had four interceptions, it's a fact. Two bad decisions, one tipped ball and one great play. That's what I wrote on my sheet."

In the Bucs' two road games, Winston has been much more careful with the football. He had no INTs in a 26-19 win over the Saints on Sept. 20 and had only one in a 19-9 loss the following week at Houston.

"Turnovers change the game," Koetter said. "A fumbled snap, a pick six interception and we're down 10-0 just like that. The whole game changed. Unfortunately, that's happened two out of four games. In between that, Jameis played two pretty good games. He played pretty good against New Orleans and pretty decent at Houston."

Winston said he has to learn not to try to do too much with the football and to let his teammates make plays.

"We've got some great players around me on this team that can make plays," Winston said. "I've just got to protect the football.

"It really is that simple. You've just got to take the simple play. Give it to your back and let him make a big. You can't put everything on yourself. Sometimes, they make good plays. … There are only so many ways you can sum up an interception, but at the same time, you've got to limit those."

One player who knows the carnival ride of experiences Winston is going through is Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, the third overall pick from UCF in 2014. Bortles threw 12 interceptions in his first six pro games and five in his final eight last season.

"It's unbelievably hard to be successful as a rookie, seeing things for the first time," Bortles said. "You're seeing things you've never seen before, you're doing things you've never done before, so I think it takes a lot of adaptation and time to get used to it."

Koetter said he has to do some things to help Winston. Among the ideas is incorporating more no-huddle into the scheme, since Winston seems to thrive with the increased tempo.

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"Jameis is definitely playing better in no-huddle," Koetter said. "Obvious next question is, why aren't you going no-huddle more? You can't do everything you want to do game plan-wise out of no-huddle. It's harder to do some of the things you want to do, especially with this being everybody's first year in the system. We probably should be doing no-huddle more."

Eventually, Bortles said, Winston has to get over the feeling of having to be the savior for the offense.

"As a quarterback, you want to push the ball downfield, you want to make plays happen, especially when things aren't going well, your record's not what you want it to be," Bortles said. "You want to be the guy that makes things happen and helps your team to victory. But you have to be smart with it."

Koetter might have summed it up best Wednesday. "We have a rookie quarterback, and he's playing inconsistent," he said. "What's the next news flash we are going to send?"