TAMPA, Fla. -- In a week when Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians declined to comment when asked about the status of quarterback Jameis Winston going into next year, Winston delivered one of the most Jekyll and Hyde performances of his career Sunday in a 38-35 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
He matched a career-high five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) and threw for a career-high in passing yards (456), but he also threw three interceptions -- fueling both his doubters and believers -- and making the evaluation process for him that much more difficult as his contract expires at the end of the season.
Here’s a closer look at what went right for Winston on Sunday and what went wrong:
We start with the bad because Winston’s first interception came on his very first pass attempt. The Colts gave Winston a pre-snap look of man coverage but really it was Cover 3, which has been an issue for Winston all year (nine of his INTs this year have come against Cover 3). Winston tried to hit Mike Evans on a slant route but either failed to account for linebacker Darius Leonard dropping into zone coverage or merely couldn’t fit it over Leonard’s head.
This is Jameis Winston's first interception against the Colts. It's Cover-3, an issue for Winston all season. It's also not the first time Winston's had issues with linebackers dropping into coverage. (Generated by @NextGenStats) pic.twitter.com/YHCYe9mK9A— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) December 9, 2019
Despite the three picks, Winston completed 73.3 percent of his passes, his highest completion percentage of the year. His most impressive throw came with 3:51 to go. Winston capped a game-winning drive with a 12-yard, back-shoulder throw to Breshad Perriman, who was working against Quincy Wilson in man coverage. Winston put the ball where only Perriman could grab it in the corner of the end zone on a fade route, and Perriman was able to make the necessary body adjustments to haul in the catch.
How do the Bucs sort this out? Winston’s 4,115 yards through 13 games are already a career-high and he’s accounted for 27 touchdowns (26 passing, one rushing) this season. But he’s thrown 23 interceptions on the season, and the Colts were able to score 17 points off Winston’s turnovers.
Arians joked, “It’s [been] all year, same thing in Atlanta. Then comes on and has a great game. Like I said, we’re the nicest team in the league. We like to spot people 10 or 15 [points]. This was 17 -- just spot them 17 points and we come back and beat them. Makes it more fun."
Teammates love his fighting spirit.
"He’s a warrior. He’s going to battle it out, no matter what. That’s his mentality," linebacker Lavonte David said. "He’s got everybody here in this locker room counting on him even through all the adversity he’s been throughout this game. After every play we would tell him we’ve got his back, and we kept fighting and we kept digging and we were able to get the job done for him.”
Still, many in the organization -- including key decision-makers -- have lost patience with Winston with these turnovers. As games against the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers in London showed, better teams will capitalize off these mistakes and limit scoring opportunities to come back.
The hope was when Arians came in with a more balanced attack and his QB whisperer ways, it could help Winston cut down on the turnovers. But they’re still just as much of a problem as they were earlier in the season, and just as much of a problem as they were at the beginning of his career, even if Arians has said on multiple occasions that he's just judging him based off what he sees in his system. Former QB Carson Palmer threw a fair amount of interceptions under Arians too, but the Cardinals also had arguably the best secondary in the league and would routinely snatch the ball away. The Bucs don't have that.
It all boils down to how much the Bucs feel they can live with.