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Humbled Jameis Winston vows to learn from tough NFL debut

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) during pre game warmups before the start of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015.
Published Sep. 17, 2015

TAMPA

It had been a downer of a Sunday, but Jameis Winston wasn't ready to put to bed his nightmarish NFL debut until he had a chance to watch film of the Bucs' 42-14 loss to Marcus Mariota and the Titans. • Winston wanted to know what went so horribly wrong. His first pass as a pro was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Bad decision. Another throw was picked off by a linebacker. Horrible throw. • Meanwhile, Mariota did everything right, passing for four touchdowns in the first half, a league record for a rookie making his NFL debut. • "I stayed up until probably about 2 o'clock (in the morning)," Winston said. "Just trying to see what went wrong. I was trying to get every excuse just to put that one behind me. But it hurt. The sun did rise the next day, and I was back out there playing football."

Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft behind Winston, landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated and on Wednesday was named AFC offensive player of the week.

Winston, whose only loss in two seasons at Florida State was against Mariota and Oregon in the Rose Bowl in January, did not get any back pats from Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.

"So what does Jameis need to get better at? Quarterbacks have to make great decisions," Koetter said Wednesday. "When they don't, bad things can happen. And when quarterbacks don't make good throws, bad things can happen there, too. So those are two examples … that hurt us that Jameis has got to do better at."

Winston's first pass was an out route to rookie Adam Humphries, who was in man coverage. But with the Titans playing Cover 2, their defensive backs undercut the routes and cornerback Coty Sensabaugh returned the interception 26 yards for a score.

"On that first interception, he made the right read and he was looking at the right guy," Koetter said. "But our guy was covered. So you have to throw it in the dirt, throw it away or become a runner. Then, on the second interception, that was just a bad throw."

Winston finished 16-of-33 for 210 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked four times. What did he learn from the film that might help him Sunday in New Orleans?

"Just the early turnover," Winston said. "You've always got that would've, could've, should've syndrome. But the early turnover just hurt. You know, you learn from it and you move on. Just a bad decision. A very bad decision. You make those sometimes. You just can't make them again."

In some ways, Winston said, he's fortunate the poor performance came in the season opener. Not only are there 15 games remaining, but he said he will learn more quickly from his mistakes.

"It's a very humbling experience because the game could've gone either way," Winston said. "If I had had a great game, people would've wondered, 'How is he going to handle his bad game when it comes?' I got it out of the way. It's no laughing matter, but it happened fast. I was not expecting it to happen that fast, but it happened. So as a young man, as the quarterback of this program, I've got to grow up and try not to live this experience again."

Of course, Winston is not the only rookie quarterback to struggle in his debut. Saints coach Sean Payton, who attended Florida State's pro day and visited with the Bucs rookie at the NFL scouting combine, believes Winston will bounce back.

"He's one in a long line of young quarterbacks who didn't have things go exactly as he wanted them to," Payton said. "But he's got that resiliency and toughness about him that's right for his team."

Winston said Bucs coaches and teammates have been very supportive.

"This team puts their arms around me, everybody told me, 'Man, keep your head up,' because they probably saw it in my eyes after the game," Winston said. "I'm not used to losing no home opener. It happened, and that's football. That's life. In life you've got to get back up, bounce back and keep fighting."

Coach Lovie Smith said it's unfair to judge Winston — or the Bucs — by one poor game.

"Don't tattoo that performance on us," Smith said. "Just wait a little bit to see exactly who we are. Jameis and everybody else — all of us."

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