MINNEAPOLIS — If Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston is going to be the franchise savior, he may first have to learn how to be a survivor.
Winston's much-anticipated NFL debut against the Vikings in Saturday's 26-16 preseason loss wasn't exactly the stuff of dreams. He was plagued by poor field position, sacked twice, fumbled a snap, had another snap sail over his head, threw an interception and took a late hit in the noggin.
Television remotes in Tampa Bay were probably thrown for more yardage than Winston's passes.
But Winston also showed he is nothing if not resilient, leading the Bucs on a 76-yard drive in nine plays in the second quarter, capped by his 8-yard touchdown run.
"I think we're good at playing fast," Winston said. "The offensive line did great. Everyone around me did great. When we picked up the intensity, we saw what we're capable of."
Winston played the entire first half and finished 9-of-19 passing (including a fail Mary) for 131 yards with the interception and no touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 48.3.
Winston got little help, especially from his offensive line.
The Bucs rushed for 68 yards in the first half, 49 coming on good runs by Doug Martin and Bobby Rainey.
But the pass protection for Winston broke down, and it could get worse. Starting right tackle Demar Dotson, who held out of offseason workouts in a contract dispute, suffered what appeared to be a serious left knee injury late in the first half.
"Things didn't go exactly how we wanted it to early on, but I thought (Winston) settled down and did some things right there at the end and threw some good balls," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said.
"As a football team, it's his first game. We have a game under our belt and can evaluate from that. First live action … I thought he seemed into the game. He wasn't rattled or anything. He was disappointed when he did some things he knows he could do better."
Meanwhile, the Bucs' defense did not play well, especially in the first half.
Vikings quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and backup Shaun Hill combined to miss only two passes, going 15-of-17 for 190 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings had 215 yards of total offense in the first half.
The defense did force three fumbles, including one by linebacker Khaseem Greene that resulted in a touchback.
Winston missed on his first three pass attempts before completing a 40-yarder to Vincent Jackson, who made a diving catch.
That was pretty much the throwing highlight for the Heisman Trophy winner.
He was sacked for a 9-yard loss when rookie left tackle Donovan Smith was beaten to the inside on a spin move by defensive end Everson Griffen. He misfired twice from the Vikings' 14-yard line, and the Bucs had to settle for a field goal.
Winston overthrew Mike Evans and was intercepted by safety Antone Exum Jr., setting up a Vikings touchdown. He even had the ball snapped over his head by center Garrett Gilkey, resulting in a 12-yard loss.
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Was Winston nervous?
"No. Not nervous," Winston said. "Very anxious. Of course I had butterflies, but I wanted to do the right thing."
Teammates were impressed with Winston.
"I have so much confidence in this kid," Jackson said. "I think he's going to have a great year. He's just so smart. He's picked up everything fast and sees things on the field that a veteran sees."