The biggest improvement Jameis Winston has made is in protecting the ball. Since his five-turnover debacle against the Panthers, the Bucs' rookie quarterback has gone three games without a turnover, a streak he never had during his career at Florida State.
To simply will yourself to not throw an interception or lose a fumble is difficult. Turnovers are part of the game.
Winston's improvement has been the result of better recognition of the defense, which has led to better decision-making.
"He's not turning the ball over, and that starts with not just randomly throwing the ball to the spot where we designed the play to go that week," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "I think Jameis had a tendency earlier in the year (to think) the way we put a play in, the way we practiced it, that's exactly the way it was going to be in a game and (he didn't) really look at what the defense is doing.
"He's just being smarter with the football, smarter with his decisions and just getting the ball out of his hands quicker. Not always. We still have some work to do with that."
Winston still has accuracy issues to iron out, caused by some poor fundamentals. He missed WR Adam Humphries on a double move early in last week's game against the Falcons, sailing the ball high. Then in overtime, he short-armed another pass to Humphries, who was open in the end zone.
"You've got to remember how young this guy is and he played two years of college football," Koetter said. "Jameis can get too spread out with his feet at times. He can get a little whippy with his arm. He'll be the first to tell you he's got a little bit of a whippy release. It's not classic Dan Marino that we're looking at right there. We're going to be working on that. You just don't fix it in five minutes. That's something that takes a while."
LAY IT ON THE LINE: The strength of the Bucs is their offensive line. That's quite a statement considering they start two rookies and two other starters have been out with injury.
The Bucs have the 11th-ranked offense in the NFL. To put that in perspective, they've finished in the top 10 in total offense only once in franchise history.
Continuity has been a key.
"We've had five guys playing together for more than one week," Koetter said. "There's something to that. There's more to that than you think. As a unit, those guys are playing really well."
So well that the Bucs have been reluctant to replace C Joe Hawley with Evan Smith, who has healed from his ankle injury and been available the past two weeks. RT Demar Dotson is eligible to return from the injured reserve/designated for return list. But it looks as if the Bucs will use their roster exemption for another week and go with Gosder Cherilus today against the Giants.
The best surprise has been the quick improvement of rookies LT Donovan Smith and G Ali Marpet.
"The best thing (Smith) does is he's always calm right now. He never gets rattled," G Logan Mankins said. "He just waits for me on the calls. It gets tough on the tackles because you can't hear on away games. He's just patient and knows I'm going to yell it to him even if it's right before the snap."
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DON'T BE FOOLED: The Bucs held the Falcons to 20 points despite blowing a 17-point lead in the second half and needing overtime to pull out a 23-20 win. Credit the defense for getting four takeaways. But remember that the problems on defense and in the secondary are far from over. The Bucs gave up nearly 500 yards to the Falcons, who never punted in the game. Now would be a good time for the highest-paid stars, DT Gerald McCoy (who had one tackle last week) and LB Lavonte David (five tackles) to start making impact plays.