This was supposed to be the year Jameis Winston took a big step forward to push the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Instead, the team is 2-5 and the third-year quarterback is making many of the same mistakes that he did in his first two NFL seasons.
In a 17-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 8, Winston threw two interceptions and had a classic “What are you doing, Jameis?” fumble:
Those uniquely Winston brain farts date back to his time at Florida State. In 39 career starts in the NFL, he’s thrown 39 interceptions and has fumbled 24 times.
But the 23-year-old quarterback isn’t really the reason why Tampa Bay is 2-5.
The Buccaneers’ inconsistent defense has struggled and gave up at least 30 points in three of the team’s first four losses. It’s No. 29 in the NFL yards allowed, while the offense is No. 4 in yards gained even after its poor game against Carolina. Sunday was also a windy game that was conducive to offensive mistakes.
But if the Buccaneers are waiting for Winston to stop making rookie mistakes, it’s getting harder to trust that those days are coming. It’s looking more and more like lapses in judgment are just a part of who he is as a quarterback.
A week ago, he carved up the Bills secondary, completing 72.7 percent of his passes for 384 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in a losing effort. Against the Panthers, he completed 55.3 percent of his passes and his three turnovers kept the team from getting in the end zone.
“They have a great defense, but you turn the ball over three times, you’re not going to win,” Winston told reporters after the game. “You score three points, you’re not going to win.
"Sometimes, in times like this, the ball isn't going to bounce your way. You're not going to see me pout. It's time for us to step up and rise to the occasion. Are our backs against the wall? Yeah. Did I play good? No. Am I going to come out next week ready to play? Yes."
Through seven games, Winston has completed 61.2 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns, six interceptions, and an 88.3 passer rating. It’s pretty close to the same numbers he had in 2016, when he completed 60.8 percent of his attempts with 28 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, and had an 86.1 rating.
If Tampa Bay’s defense was better, maybe his similar stats would be enough for another winning season. But regardless of the team’s performance in 2017, the bigger question is whether or not Winston will live up to the expectations that came with being the No. 1 overall selection in 2015.
So far in his NFL career, Winston’s been a middle-of-the-road quarterback. He was No. 21 in passer rating among starters a year ago and mostly tethered by turnovers.
That’s still an issue in 2017 and as long as Winston continues to be erratic, it will continue to be hard for the Buccaneers to be too confident in their future at the quarterback position.