Is Jameis Winston, quarterback of the Tampa Bay Bucs, a gunslinger? Are interceptions something the Bucs are going to have to learn to live with?
Winston, so far, has thrown eight interceptions in four weeks. He got off to a similar start last season with seven.
“I don’t know if you ever want to accept it, but I do think that that’s something to build around,” said Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “I’ve always believed that guys that are smart, competitive, an unbelievable will to win, I think that’s something to build around and something we should build around. And then keep continuing to play better around him, shrink our mistakes, and we’ll take off.”
Winston said the challenge was to take better care of the football, beginning with Monday night’s game against the Carolina Panthers.
“You’ve just got to take care of the football. Nothing is really different,” Winston said. “I’m going to be the quarterback that I think I need to be to win games here and one part of that is just protecting the football. I have to be better at doing that.
“Like I always say, I get better every single day. This is not the end of the world, but we do know that we need to start protecting the football and that’s on me.”
Winston said he’s a better quarterback in his second season.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot from my first year to my second year,” Winston said. “I just have to protect the football — that’s the main thing. Just put us in better situations to win football games.”
Monken said he didn’t want to take the ball out of Winston’s hands.
“I don’t think that’s what we want to do,” Monken said. “I think what we’ve got to do is do it better. It was only three weeks ago he was the NFC Player of the Week. It’s week-to-week, one week it’s this, it’s just is what it is. He’s a really good football player and we’ve got to play better around him, he’s got to take care of the football, we’ve got to run the ball better. That’s really what you’ve got to do and we’ve got to continue to do the things that we need to do to be successful and not turn it over, that’s really it. If it was that simple, we’d have it fixed.”
A lot of young quarterbacks have problems with interceptions, Monken said.
“If you take the full body of work — have there been some bad decisions?” Monken said. “Yes, but the very first interception of the year, we run the wrong route. Here against the Rams, the ball gets in Chuck’s (running back Charles Sims III’s) hands and it bounces in someone’s hands. One of the interceptions at Arizona, it was the last play of the game. Does that matter? No, he’s throwing it in the end zone. So sure, we have to be better, collectively as a staff to not put him in those situations, because one things he’s going to do is compete.
“But I knew this was going to come up and I just want to — if you talked about, and I mean this, the three quarterbacks in our division, their first two years [as a starter]: (Carolina quarterback) Cam Newton, 40 (touchdowns) and 29 (interceptions). (New Orleans quarterback) Drew Brees, 28 and 31. (Atlanta quarterback) Matt Ryan, 38 and 25. That’s their first two years in this league, three pretty good quarterbacks. One that’s an MVP, one that’s been doing it for years and Ryan, (the Falcons) are leading the NFL in yards. (Former NFL quarterback) Peyton Manning, 52 and 43. (Former NFL quarterback) Brett Favre, 37 and (37). (Former NFL quarterback) John Elway, 25 and 29, it happens. As they develop, touchdown-to-interception ratio, it happens.
“Now, am I completely comparing him to them? No, all I’m saying is, I love that kid. You talk about a competitive spirit and a will to want to compete and make every play; that’s who you want to build your team around. Is he there yet? No. Are we there yet, collectively? No, but you’d rather have to try to reel a guy back in than try to develop some sort of toughness or will to win in competitive spirit. That’s what we have at quarterback and we need to embrace that and continue to mold that and develop that. That’s coaching, that’s playing, that’s run the football better and him taking care of it better.”
So far, Winston has been hit 39 times. That’s far too many.
“We’ve said it earlier, we’ve got to be able to run the ball better,” Monken said. “We’ve got to be more precise in the way we run routes and come open quicker and I’m sure there’s some of those things he can be better at. So collectively, we’ve got to do a better job of that. Like you said, nothing’s good when you get your quarterback hit that often, but we’re ready to move on, we’re ready for the Panthers on Monday night, and we’re expecting their best — and they’re certainly going to get ours.”