TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have pulled out an overtime win against the Cleveland Browns Sunday, but four costly turnovers -- including three from quarterback Jameis Winston -- almost kept it from happening.
Two weeks ago against the Atlanta Falcons, it did happen. In two starts and three games this season, Winston already has seven turnovers.
Winston's turnover problem has to be corrected with the Cincinnati Bengals -- a team known for its punishing and opportunistic defense -- up next, and with some of the league's better defenses on deck with the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens.
Winston's first turnover against the Browns came in the second quarter on a pass over the middle intended for tight end O.J. Howard, landing in the hands of linebacker Christian Kirksey at the Cleveland 27-yard line.
"They were in zone coverage, the linebacker took a deep drop and Jameis has got to get off that and go somewhere else with the ball," coach Dirk Koetter said. "That goes into the 'bad read' category."
Koetter didn't mention mechanics, but you could also argue Winston needed to get more air under the throw, something the QB acknowledged.
"I throw it straight to the guys, so that's an area that I'm not going to say that I'm not working on," Winston said.
The same could be said for Winston's end zone interception against the Falcons two weeks ago. The Bucs were at the Falcons' 7 and were trailing 24-13. As Winston attempted to hit Chris Godwin in the back of the end zone, it bounced off a defender's helmet. It also appeared that Winston threw the ball too far behind Godwin.
Winston's second pick against the Browns happened in overtime -- another pass over the middle intended for Godwin -- in which a different linebacker, Jamie Collins, dropped into coverage on second-and-16. With a Gregg Williams' blitz-happy defense, the initial thought was that perhaps Winston thought Collins was going to blitz, but Koetter said it actually wasn't Winston's fault at all.
"They were in man coverage, we actually checked to a man route and we had another receiver run the wrong route," Koetter said. "Actually, Jameis was trying to throw it to Chris Godwin, who had beaten his man by about 5 yards, and the guy who was running the wrong route took his man right into the throw."
Some of Winston's issues against the Browns were a result of protection. In the third quarter, on second-and-6, Myles Garrett sacked Winston for a loss of 8. He coughed up the ball as he was hit in the back at the Tampa Bay 29-yard line, and it set up Baker Mayfield's 15-yard touchdown to David Njoku.
"[Garrett] got a little jump on [left tackle] Donovan (Smith) on that play, Donovan tried to run him around the horn. The only thing Jameis could do there was step up into the pocket, but Jameis I don't think was thinking that guy was that close with him," Koetter said.
That's on Winston to demonstrate better awareness in the pocket.
Regardless of where the blame falls on those turnovers -- whether it be Winston, whose 66 turnovers are second-most in the league since 2015, or a receiver running the wrong route or the offensive line failing to protect, taking care of the football has to to be a bigger priority if the Bucs want to live up to the potential they showed at the beginning of the season on offense, and finish the season above .500.
"[They've] been killing us all year," right tackle Demar Dotson said. "We've got to cut down on those self-inflicted wounds that's keeping us in football games and almost losing us football games. We almost let this one get away.
"We as an offense have got do better than that if we're going to get a chance to play in the postseason. We've got a lot of good teams that are coming up, so we can't beat ourselves. It's hard to beat them as it is."