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Bucs find formula: Don't ask Jameis Winston to do too much

NEW ORLEANS -- This script should be printed out and distributed to every office inside One Buc Place.

Run the ball a ton, keep Jameis Winston's throws manageable and watch the progress.

That was the plan in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 26-19 road win against the New Orleans Saints, and they should keep it until a defense forces otherwise.

No matter how much the Bucs looked allergic to winning late in Sunday's game, the blueprint worked, and it can work.

"I just want to be a game manager," Winston said after completing 14 of 21 attempts for 207 yards and a touchdown.

The Bucs can ask Winston to make 20 to 25 quality throws each week. And he did make quality throws in the Superdome. Lots of them.

In fact, there wasn't one Winston throw that was burn-the-tape awful. At least four of his misses were catchable. His two incompletions intended for Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Vincent Jackson at the goal line were perfect concepts, right anticipation -- he just missed the throws high and away.

After the Mariota Mauling of Tampa in Week 1 left some Bucs fans wondering if their franchise picked the right guy, Winston's convincing response will carry weight in the locker room.

Winston can have these performances when the Bucs have balance around him. They rushed 35 times for 139 yards Sunday. Doug Martin looked better than his 78-yard, 21-carry performance because the Saints were sitting on the run in the second half. He looks ready for prime tailback status. The dedication to the run allowed Winston time in the pocket to deliver the passes that cause a double-take and inspire social media clips.

Winston's three completions during the final drive of the first half, including his 15-yard touch pass to a diving Jackson in the back of the end zone -- those were big-league throws. He stood tall and stepped into them. Asking him to do that 35 to 40 times a game probably won't work this early in his rookie campaign.

"When we're in control and we're driving the ball and we're able to call our game plan, he's going to be just fine," Jackson said of Winston. "Our offense did a better job of getting in a rhythm for him."

That means more play action, which the Bucs can use effectively when they have the lead.

Of course, conservative play will take Winston and the Bucs only so far. Tampa needs to get Mike Evans going after three targets and no catches Sunday. And Winston had one passing attempt on five dropbacks in the fourth quarter, in part because the Bucs were playing for a field goal late instead of taking a shot.

That's how this team needs to win right now, though, at least until Winston is ready for more. He will be. He's not right now.

Winston gets the idea.

"We played great around me," Winston said. "Doug was toting the ball. Offense played outstanding. I'm the only one that messed up when I could have had two easy touchdowns. In this league, touchdowns really matter and you have to take advantage of your opportunity."

Winston seems like a smart player. For example, he joked after the game that when he thought the Saints would play man coverage, which he saw in game video during the week, only to switch to two deep safeties and some zone on Sunday, he said to himself, "It's the NFL -- you might watch this but they are trying to trick you."

Yes, they are. That process won't get any easier. The Saints are considered a subpar defense right now.

But Winston on Sunday showed he can decipher coverages, completing 71.4 percent of his attempts when the Saints rushed four defenders or fewer. That's an encouraging stat.

The hits will get harder, as Winston is finding out. Far too often, he runs without sliding. His six carries for 23 yards and a score look good in the box score, but he's taking too many shots.

At least Martin noticed something from Sunday that will help him and Winston.

He thinks play-action passing can be a "big factor" for the Bucs moving forward.

"If you don't have a good running game, the play action doesn't work," Martin said. "We had that going today."