TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston lost not one, but two wideouts to injury Sunday, and his top target, Mike Evans, had been relegated to just three catches. It didn't help that the ground game was stuck in neutral throughout much of the day. Winston kept his resolve and was able to engineer two scoring drives in the 28-21 win.
Winston was on the sideline rallying his teammates, knowing he needed players like Freddie Martino, who had previously been on the Bucs' practice squad, and Russell Shepard, who had to move into the 'F' receiver spot. He told them, "Just keep fighting and keep battling. We can’t control that stuff, but let’s go out here and get a win."
Last year in Winston's rookie season, when star receiver Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy went down with season-ending knee injuries and Evans struggled with drops, that was a far more difficult task, especially in the red zone. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken said it's the extra time Winston has spent with guys like Cecil Shorts III, before he was injured, and now Martino and Josh Huff, working to build chemistry, that has helped them overcome injuries this season and not have any hiccups.
"That confidence gets developed every day after practice, every day that gets developed," Monken said. "A lot of those guys that were in the game had run routes with Jameis before and had a pretty good rapport, because they’ve put in the time and Jameis is out there leading that ... There’s not a lack of confidence from Jameis ... he spreads the ball around as good as I’ve been around."
On Sunday, Winston went 20-of-30 for 280 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He completed passes to nine different targets, including receivers, tight ends and running backs, with tight end Cameron Brate catching 6-of-9 for 86 receiving yards and Martino 4-for-4 for 56 yards.
"He’s tough -- mentally tough and physically tough," Monken said of Winston. "Hell, we handed the ball off one time on third-and-20, he was down there trying to block the safety [laughter]. Now, that isn’t very smart, but that just tells you who he is. It’s not smart, but [it shows] his competitive spirit and his will to compete. So, no play is ever dead. You guys have seen it, I’ve seen it just one year, and he’s going to continue to get better in the pocket and the other things that he’s developing.
"But, some of those things that he does is out of toughness, out of will. He doesn’t panic in the pocket, you rarely see him go down without being hit. So, that’s a good sign, he’s calm in there, his feet have calmed down if you’ve watched him, he's confident in there. A lot of that has to do with the protection, but when you have that component with also his ability to escape and get off guys with arms, it’s a real positive for your offense."