There was one thing that all Bucs fans wanted to see in their team’s season opener on Sunday, improvement. A new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, and a rejuvenated starting quarterback were supposed to combine for a statement win at home against a 49ers defense that struggled in 2018.
Passing weapons such as Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard were expected to scorch San Fransisco’s secondary. None of these things happened. Instead, the San Francisco 49ers’ defense not only stymied any progress in the Bucs offense, but also proved that Tampa Bay are in for tougher season than anticipated.
Jameis Winston was awful. His passes were inaccurate, his decision making clearly hasn’t improved, and he never looked comfortable in the pocket.
The Bucs offensive line deserves a healthy dose of criticism for failing to protect Winston from constant pressure. Winston rarely had time to go through all of his progressions. For the most part, Winston was forced to complete short throws to Howard and running back Dare Ogunbowale. His longest pass was 28 yards to Chris Godwin and averaged a measly 5.8 yds/att.
Winston’s decision making, however, was the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Buccaneers. The fifth year veteran threw three interceptions and could have easily had more. With seven minutes remaining in the first quarter, Winston stepped up in a collapsing pocket threw a ball that never had a chance of reaching his target and was almost picked off.
Later in the game, Winston threw an easy pick six to Richard Sherman, who had failed to record an interception in 2018. Making matters worse, in the dying minutes of the game, Winston threw a pass while backpedaling under pressure straight to Ahkello Witherspoon resulting in another pick six, which ended any hopes of a comeback.
Winston’s last two interceptions should have been avoided. Miscommunication or incorrect routes supposedly played a role in both turnovers, but at the end of the day it shows a lack of continuity and understanding in a team that can’t afford it.
Poor decision making has plagued the former Seminole since arriving in the NFL. When Winston is forced under pressure, he can succumb to rushing throws and trying to make plays instead of accepting defeat. The fact that he has been unable to improve in this area is concerning for Bruce Arians. At the same time, however, drastic improvements must be made with the offensive line to afford Winston more time in the pocket.
When asked about whether the 49ers won this game or the Bucs merely threw it away Winston stated,
“We definitely had a lot of opportunities, our defense played great. We just turned the football over at some unfortunate times, and they went back for touchdowns. So we gave them points.”
Winston can not be blamed for all of the Bucs misfortunes. A blocked punt gifting the 49ers terrific field position as well as a fumble by O.J. Howard in the red zone attributed to the arduous task put on Winston. Unfortunately for the fifth year veteran, it’s the quarterback’s job to step up when the pressure is at its greatest.
The lone bright spot of Tampa Bay’s offense came from second year running back Ronald Jones II. Jones out-touched veteran Peyton Barber 13 to 8 and recorded 75 yards. He also made an impressive run after the catch off of a screen pass from Winston picking up 18 yards and a first down. While it is too early to tell if Ronald Jones II can maintain this level of performance moving forward, he certainly looks more threatening than Barber.
Tampa Bay’s schedule does not get any easier moving forward. They must travel on the road in three of the next four weeks including two trips to division rivals. They may find a brief reprieve against the Giants at home in week 3, but after Sunday’s disastrous performance nothing is certain.
Thursday’s matchup against the Panthers might feature a healthier Mike Evans who should be more of a deep threat in Charlotte. However, questions about Jameis Winston’s decision making and protection will create more consternation among Bucs fans. Byron Leftwich, Tampa Bay’s new offensive coordinator, must try to work with Winston in a short week to fix the perilous holes in his game, and get the offensive back on track.