Bucs' best players struggle, and Jameis Winston can't overcome it

Ad Pro Test Clip 215 - March 2017 (1:55)

Ad Pro Test Clip 215 - March 2017 (1:55)

TAMPA, Fla. -- Even though key playmakers inside his huddle let him down, Jameis Winston took the blame for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive inefficiency.

"It's my fault every single time," the rookie quarterback said when asked about missed opportunities in Sunday's 32-18 loss to the New York Giants. "But the thing you've got to focus on is how hard we are playing. We're playing our tail off. It's two back-to-back games where we're just out there giving it our all. Eventually, we are going to break through. Eventually, it's going to happen."

Perhaps it will. Maybe it won't. Either way, Winston was too self-critical following a winnable game that became another loss.

Winston passed for 249 yards and ran for a touchdown, and he didn't throw an interception for the fourth consecutive game. But Sunday's result was proof that Winston needs help. The Bucs (3-5) can't ask the rookie to overcome a season-low 31 yards rushing by Doug Martin and five dropped passes by Mike Evans.

"I just want to win," Evans said, "and I cost my team big time."

The Bucs need more from Evans. With Vincent Jackson out with a knee injury and Louis Murphy on injured reserve with a torn ACL, Evans must play like a true No. 1 wide receiver. He had 152 yards on eight catches Sunday, but he was capable of more.

"Mike made a couple good catches, but you can't drop that many balls," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "It's as simple as that. ... We had opportunities. When you talk about finishing in the red zone and things like that, you have to make some of those plays."

The red zone blunders -- just nine points on three first-half drives that reached the Giants' 10-yard line or deeper -- will receive most of the attention. But the Bucs' problems went deeper.

Tampa Bay needs a productive supporting cast around Winston in order for this offense to reach its potential. Perhaps one day he will be good enough to drag the Bucs to victory, but that likely won't happen this season. Perhaps it won't happen for a while.

At their best this year, the Bucs have relied upon a strong running game to create favorable situations for Winston. The Giants did a fine job of limiting Martin, which created more pressure on Winston and Evans to produce.

They didn't do enough, especially near New York's end zone. Winston completed just 1 of 6 passes for 4 yards during the three first-half drives that went deep into Giants' territory.

"I just have to take more of the initiative," Winston said of correcting the red zone woes. "Make it matter. It has to matter more to me, scoring in the red zone, so I will never say it's anyone's fault. The fault is not getting [touchdowns] in the red zone, and I take that onto me to get us [touchdowns] in the red zone. I am the quarterback."

True, he should view his role that way. But as Winston grows in the NFL, he'll learn it's harder to carry a team on Sundays than it was during his college years at Florida State.

The best NFL offenses feature viable supporting casts to complement the quarterback. When players such as Martin and Evans struggle, it places Winston in a precarious position of trying to carry too much weight.

"We made a lot of plays going down the field," Bucs left guard Logan Mankins said, "and then we would get down there, and we just sputtered."

"Sputtered" is a good way to describe the Bucs' offensive play Sunday. They need to become more complete as soon as possible, for the benefit of Winston and all involved.