2019 Bucs in Review: Quarterback

J. Kanno

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"— a thesis on the French Revolution, or Jameis Winston's 2019 season? This year saw career highs and lows for the Bucs quarterback, but arguably the lows overshadowed the highs.

Volume was the theme of Winston's season. He hit career highs in touchdowns (33), completions (626) and yardage (5109). Winston led the NFL in the latter two and followed just Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson in touchdowns.

Winston also set a personal record and led the NFL in interceptions with 30, making him the first quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a season. This dubious record embodies the kind of season Winston had in 2019.

Expectations were high for Winston entering this season. The arrival of "Quarterback Whisperer" Bruce Arians again signified the Bucs' commitment to helping Winston become the franchise quarterback they drafted him to be. 

Arians coached Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer in career years so it was only natural that he do the same for Winston. His tutelage appeared to be working in the weeks leading up to the regular season, with Arians describing Winston as "maybe ahead" of where he wanted his young quarterback to be. Arians pointed to "consistency" as a mark of Winston's progress during training camp.

Consistency is not a word that that would be used much to describe Winston afterwards. In the season opener against the 49ers, Winston threw three interceptions including two pick-sixes like this one to Richard Sherman:

A key point of dispute throughout the season was whether an interception was actually Winston's fault. The pick-six to Sherman shows Winston throwing the ball in the direction of running back Peyton Barber, who appears to run well past where his route was to stop. 

The play design tips favor to the Niners and Barber's execution left a lot to be desired, but it was ultimately Winston's decision to pass to a running back covered by one of the NFL's best defensive backs. That level of confidence is both Winston's strength and ultimately his undoing.

This issue was directly addressed by Arians following the Bucs' loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 8. In the game, Winston threw two interceptions, the first leading to a Tennessee touchdown and the second to effectively end the game. During the post-game presser, Arians ardently defended Winston and said, "Jameis didn’t throw one damn interception that was his fault. His receivers let him down today[.]"

On the other end of the spectrum, Winston looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the league when he wasn't throwing multiple picks in a game. He orchestrated a slaughter of the LA Rams in Week 4, throwing for 385 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception.

Winston threw three or more touchdowns in five games this season, but he also threw three or more interceptions in the same number of games. He was his own team's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and it was unpredictable when either would appear from game to game or even play to play.

Two games encapsulated Winston's season more than any other: the Bucs' Week 14 win over the Indianapolis Colts and their loss to the Atlanta in the season finale. Against the Colts, Winston threw four touchdowns and three interceptions, including another pick-six this time to linebacker Darius Leonard:

However, Winston's three picks were the only mistakes he made in that game. Overall he completed 73.3 percent of his passes, a season high, and otherwise trampled the Colts defense for 456 yards. Winston helped put the Bucs in a hole early, but he was the primary reason they were able to dig themselves out of it.

The same cannot be said for the finale against Atlanta. Winston was far less perfect, completing 13 of 24 passes for 204 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Nevertheless, he kept his team in the game right up until the end when he threw a game-ending pick-six in overtime to LB Deion Jones:

Winston's final pass attempt of 2019 was a tragically fitting end, capturing many of the hallmarks that defined his season. First, the interception came on the first play of the overtime period—Winston had thrown six picks on a Bucs' opening drive in 2019, four of which came in his first pass attempt. It was also Winston's seventh pick-six of the season, an NFL record. 

Finally, it was Winston's 30th interception of the season, making him the first NFL quarterback to throw for 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a season. Hollywood could not write a more fitting ending.

There are no easy answers when it comes to Jameis Winston. His stats in 2019 paint a portrait of a prolific passer who moved the ball downfield. He averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, sixth-best among all NFL quarterbacks. No one attempted more passes (626) and he led all quarterbacks in conversions for first-down.

When factoring in the interceptions, the portrait changes. He was easily the leader in interception percentage (4.8), and his adjusted net yards per pass attempt (6.15), which factors touchdowns, sacks and interceptions into his yards per attempt, ranked 18th in the NFL.

Winston's rookie contract expires this offseason. His efforts in 2019 leave the Bucs with a difficult and potentially momentous decision on his future. Bruce Arians is not as committed to Winston as was to start the season, saying at his year-end press conference that the Bucs could win with Jameis and they "can definitely win with another one too[.]"

The franchise tag is an option, though that will likely sour the Bucs' relationship with their would-be franchise quarterback to at least some degree. After a 30 interception season, a long-term extension is less likely though not impossible.

One thing should be certain: this is not the last anyone will hear from Jameis Winston. There will be no "far better rest" for him to go to, not with 33 touchdowns and 5109 pass yards on his 2019 stat sheet. Winston's career in Tampa Bay may be nearing an end, but it certainly will not be the end of his NFL career.

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