Winston’s Temper Raises Questions Around Bucs

The Bucs’ quarterback had a great game, but finished with an embarrassing meltdown

At the end of Sunday afternoon’s game against the Carolina Panthers, Jameis Winston dove in an attempt to recover his third fumble of the day.  While he came out of the pile with the football, officials awarded the ball to Julius Peppers of the Panthers, essentially sealing the Buccaneers’ latest gut-wrenching loss.

What happened next could summarize the 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers about as well as any sequence could.  Winston, unhappy with the call, lost his temper.  That’s the nice way of putting it, because lost his ever-loving mind is probably more accurate.  Winston had to be restrained by teammates from going after somebody, be it Peppers or the official who gave him the football.  Once he was pushed back to his own sideline, the Buccaneers’ quarterback continued to shout and try to get back on the field.

As any football fan will tell you, this gambit never had higher than a 0.00000000% chance of actually convincing the crew to award the football to the Buccaneers.  Never in league history has a quarterback having a temper tantrum changed a call.

The incident marks the second time this year that Jameis Winston needed to be restrained by his own teammates in the fourth quarter of a losing effort.  There was also the incident against New Orleans, in a game where he had been pulled due to injury and still managed to start a fight.  Add to that an ongoing NFL investigation about a 2016 incident in an Uber in Arizona, and add to that bizarre behavior like “eating that W” in a pregame speech that will live on as a meme for years, and it’s worth asking some questions about Jameis Winston.

Is there reason to doubt that Jameis Winston’s ceiling would put him among the top quarterbacks in the league?

It’s starting to seem this way.  Winston at his absolute best can look like Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger as he breaks tackles, buys time with his feet, and connects with a receiver on a broken play.  In 2017, however, he’s only played like that for two weeks, and even in those two weeks he found himself struggling to hold onto the football when pressured.

People can call him a “gunslinger” all day and night, but often “gunslinger” is a catch-all term to excuse poor play from a quarterback who undoubtedly knows better.  Jameis Winston’s decision-making is at times terrible, at times worse than that.  These are the habits with which he was drafted and if anything they’ve only become worse in his three NFL seasons.

That having been said, before his fit on Sunday, Winston might have been turning a corner with his play.  In the last two weeks, both against teams who will make the NFC playoffs, Jameis Winston has looked every bit as sharp as he has looked at any point in his NFL career.  Against Atlanta and at Carolina, the Florida State product was sharp and constantly aware of his surroundings.  There were fumbles, but the poor pass interceptions that had become part of Winston’s 2017 story have been absent in this late season.

It shows us that the ceiling is still there.  While there are plenty of bad habits, Jameis Winston has demonstrated that there is a reason he was drafted first overall.  While there has been reason to ask some serious questions about Dirk Koetter, the last two weeks between the sidelines have suggested a counterpoint.  Perhaps with an improved offensive line that could give life to the running game and more time for the quarterback, the Buccaneers’ current offense could work.  To put it concisely, people might worry about the direction Dirk Koetter is taking Jameis Winston, but it does not seem to have damaged the potential Winston represents.

This brings us to the next Winston-related question.

At what point does Jameis’ passion for the game go from a good trait for a team to rally around and become a serious temper problem?

The obvious answer, at least my answer, would be that November game in New Orleans.  Winston is saying all the right things about his teammates and coaches in press conferences, going so far as to defend Koetter fiercely after the Buccaneers lost at home to Atlanta in week 15 as you’ll see in the video above.  Still, if he were as on board with everything as he claims to be, he’s not showing it during games.  Winston’s antics in the last couple of months suggest that he’s unhappy beneath the surface.

Part of this can be attributed to how football works.  Coming into his professional career, Winston couldn’t have been on the losing side of more than a handful of games in his entire life.  Great high school and college teams lose, at most, one game per year.  In other words, Jameis Winston does more losing in a single year as a Buccaneers quarterback than he did in his entire life before.

While nobody would doubt Winston’s passion for football or his enthusiasm toward all aspects of the game, these incidents like what took place at the end of the game on Sunday are becoming a serious problem for the Buccaneers.

Consider that both outbursts took place against division opponents on the road.  Think Marshon Lattimore will remember Winston starting in on him when Jameis Winston should have been in the locker room being looked at by a training staff?  Wonder if division opponents notice how easy it is to fluster the man?

If Jameis Winston cannot control himself, he will become a laughingstock.  His ceiling may be subject for debate.  His floor, however, is becoming very clear and increasingly close.

The young quarterback is going to have to deal with more and more taunts in road games at this rate.  Opponents mock his taste for the letter W.  Opposing fans will before long notice that Jameis Winston finishes more games with tears in his eyes than most quarterbacks in league history.  This is all before we get into the uniquely theatrical way he gives the football to other teams, turnovers best described as pratfalls.

The next question changes the focus of the spotlight.

Does the current coaching staff seem to have any sense of urgency to try and rid Winston of these poor quarterbacking habits?

The answer, as far as I can tell, is a firm no.  Since shoving Lattimore, Winston has been injured, he’s come back, and he had to be dragged off the field on Sunday after disputing a turnover.

Look at Dirk Koetter’s various press conferences and you’ll see that he doesn’t focus very much on Jameis Winston’s decision-making or temper, which suggests he sees these things as features rather than bugs.

To a degree this is understandable.  Winston takes risks, which can get him in a lot of trouble, but the quarterback is also capable of making a game-changing play.  Even the most weathered coaches will have trouble walking the line between getting Winston to play smarter and coercing him to play scared.  Besides that, how much can one get on a football player for having an undeniable passion for football?  Winston might need to better harness his passion at times, but nobody could accuse him of indifference.  There’s definitely a case to be made on both counts.

Still, by all accounts, Jameis Winston is expected to be under center on New Year’s Eve as the Buccaneers finish off their season at home against New Orleans.  He has not been benched for his behavior, he has not been benched to protect him, and it makes a person wonder if Jameis Winston gets a free pass from his coaches.

The final question is one I cannot answer.  It is a question that fans can opine over, and analysts can speculate about, but it is a question that can only be answered by members of the Glazer family.

Dirk Koetter was brought to Tampa to develop Jameis Winston.  Has Winston made enough progress in three years to suggest Koetter is on the right path with him?

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Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.