GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jameis Winston is hurt. Let's start with those four words that can change a game. They can change a season. They can lead to other changes.
For 37 consecutive starts, the Bucs quarterback is the one thing the team and the town could count on.
The defense is a yo-yo. It goes up and down each week, and on Sunday, allowed the Bucs to fall behind 31-0. Adrian Peterson, at 32 and playing his first game for the Cardinals, rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Carson Palmer hit his first 14 passes.
"One thing I can say about him is that he's one of the toughest guys I've ever played with," said backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. "So for him to have to come out of a game, that was killing him."
With 9:10 to go in the first quarter of Sunday's 38-33 loss to the Cardinals, Winston was hit by linebacker Chandler Jones trying to complete a pass on third down in the first series of the game. He came off the field holding his right arm straight to his side. He talked to trainers. He made some warm-up tosses to Fitzpatrick. He sat down. He made a few more tosses.
Winston came back into the game and completed his next three passes for 39 yards. But he left after one series into the second quarter when he threw incomplete on three consecutive passes.
"When I started warming up on the sidelines, that's when I felt it," Winston said. "I tried, I tried to battle it out and I guess sitting on the sideline only makes it worse and it stiffened up. That's all.
"I fell on my shoulder. Yeah, I've had that injury before. If it was in my other shoulder, it would've been fine but the throwing shoulder is kind of tough."
X-rays were negative on Winston's shoulder but he will undergo an MRI on Monday. The Bucs say how sore and painful Winston is will determine whether he can play next Sunday at Buffalo.
Winston was asked how concerned he was about missing games because of his shoulder.
"Not concerned at all. It was just pain," Winston said. "That's the only reason I didn't come back. That's the only reason.
"I'll be back. … Soon."
You want to believe him. But then, Bucs fans probably wanted to believe their team wasn't capable of this kind of collapse.
One year after losing 40-7 in the same building, the Bucs didn't just lay an egg. They made omelets.
They couldn't stop the run. They couldn't block. They couldn't tackle. They couldn't cover a receiver. They couldn't get close to Palmer.
"I can't tell you how disappointed and embarrassed I am in the way we played the first two quarters and the first two series of the third quarter," coach Dirk Koetter said. "And unfortunately, that starts with me. I obviously did a horrible job of getting these guys ready to play because that was the worst first half of football I've ever seen in my life."
Think about that. Not with the Falcons, not with the Jaguars, not with Arizona State, not with at Boise State, not with Oregon, not with Boston College, or Missouri or UTEP or San Francisco State.
The worst half of football. Ever.
Suddenly, this season that was drunk with promise was left to wither in the dry desert.
Credit Fitzpatrick for passing for 290 yards and throwing three TDs in the second half. But don't get this twisted. The Bucs did not show up Sunday. Koetter is right to say it starts with him.
Safety T.J. Ward suggested after the game that some of the younger players couldn't handle coming to Phoenix on Friday.
"We're on a West Coast trip, we came a day early. Sometimes, we've got a young team. Guys think they're on vacation," Ward said. "We have to get more of a business mind-set. We're only here to do one thing and one thing only. We got a little ahead of ourselves coming out here and we didn't do our jobs today."
Whatever the reasons, the Bucs (2-3) are suddenly in crisis mode. They have fallen into last place in the NFC South, a game and a half back behind Carolina (4-2).
Now Winston's right arm can't throw a football. Right now, Bucs fans are hurting with him.
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud.