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Does Bucs' QB Jameis Winston get too pumped for big games?

Jameis Winston drops to 1-4 as a prime time starter in the NFL with Thursday night’s loss to the Patriots.
Jameis Winston drops to 1-4 as a prime time starter in the NFL with Thursday night’s loss to the Patriots.
Published Oct. 8, 2017

TAMPA— Bucs QB Jameis Winston is all passion but not as much precision at this point in his career. When you see him pumping up his team before games — especially those in prime time — he is shouting and his eyes are so wide they look as though they might pop out of their sockets.

You love the fire, but in big games, Winston might need a little less fury.

Such was the case again Thursday against five-time Super Bowl champion QB Tom Brady and the Patriots. Winston spoke all week about how excited he was to meet Brady, who wasn't having it until after he finished talking with reporters following the game.

"Well, when you go against Tom Brady, you're excited," noted former Cowboys QB Tony Romo, the CBS analyst for the game. "You got to calm your nerves and just come out and execute."

There didn't seem to be much calm, and there was even less execution, especially in the first half in the Bucs' 19-14 loss to the Patriots.

The Bucs are 1-4 in prime time games since Winston became the starter in 2015, his rookie season. The exception is a 17-14 win at Carolina on Monday Night Football last season. But coach Dirk Koetter took the ball out of Winston's hands in that game, running Jacquizz Rodgers on 10 straight plays to start the game. Rodgers rushed 30 times for 101 yards.

The only time Winston has finished with at least 100 yards passing in the first half of those games was last year's Thursday night loss to Atlanta. In fact, he has failed to complete more than 50 percent of his passes in three of his four losses with the nation watching.

On Thursday, Winston entered the fourth quarter with only 109 yards passing. The Bucs were terrible on third down. They didn't convert one until there was under two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

It makes no sense, of course, because Winston thrived on the big stage at Florida State. That just hasn't translated to the NFL. Koetter has heard many suggest that Winston gets too amped for prime time games. He doesn't buy it.

"I'm not sure. I know that theory is out there, but he played in a lot of national games in college and did well," Koetter said. "You know, on those first two drives (Thursday), we threw on first down and got first downs, twice. We hit Mike (Evans) twice in a row on first down. Then in the few plays that followed that, we had some kind of a breakdown. So I'm not sure about that theory."

Having gone back and watched Thursday's game a few times, Koetter is right. Winston made some poor throws, but TE Cameron Brate had four drops in the game, including a few in the first half.

One play stands out from the second quarter. Winston had RB Charles Sims open across the middle of the field, and Sims had a lot of room to run through the zone, with only S Patrick Chung between him and maybe a touchdown. But Winston threw the ball behind Sims, who was unable to secure the catch much less get the first down.

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"You're seeing a few throws from Jameis that are uncharacteristic of him," Romo said. "He's got to be more accurate. If you lead him, he's going to be able to get all the way to the sideline and possibly past Chung on the sideline. Those are nondescript plays that you can get 10, 15 or 20 yards on by just throwing the ball in the right spot. In the development of quarterbacks, that's as important as anything and one of the underrated aspects."

As a team, the Bucs aren't ready for prime time. Losses to the Rams, Falcons, Cowboys and Patriots have proven that in the past two seasons.

Passion is great. But emotion can't get the best of them, and it has to start with Winston.

CLOCK management: Koetter took some heat for not killing the clock on the final drive Thursday after DeSean Jackson's reception gave the Bucs a first down at their 49. The catch was made with 1:03 left in the game. With no timeouts, the Bucs chose not to spike the ball in that situation, and when they got to the line of scrimmage, a false start penalty on T Demar Dotson resulted in a 10-second runoff, to 33 seconds.

The false start was a miscommunication with one of the interior offensive linemen. But Koetter defended staying in the hurry-up rather than kill the clock, saying it's an advantage for his offense in that situation not to let the defense time to get settled.

"If you watch us in two minutes, we rarely clock it," Koetter said. "We have a lot of confidence in going to the line. There really should only be a couple (of) seconds difference in how long it takes you to clock it versus to get off a play.

"The advantage to continuing to go, in our opinion, is that the defense also doesn't huddle and they have to be playing. If you look at our two-minute offense over the last three years, we have been pretty darn efficient in that.

"If we went by that theory, would you be clocking it every time you got a complete pass? I just don't buy into that. You could say I'm wrong, but I don't buy into that one."

UP NEXT: The team returns to work Tuesday after its mini-bye and travels Friday to Arizona for its 4 p.m. Sunday game against the Cardinals. Tampa Bay lost 40-7 there last year in Week 2. Six of the Bucs' next eight games are on the road. "We also have to understand we're not playing at full strength; we're going to be getting some good players back on defense," Koetter said. The team has been without LBs Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David and S T.J. Ward. "We just have to put it all together on offense for four quarters, and we haven't been able to do that consistently enough. That obviously starts with me."