TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued to self-destruct on Sunday. Their offense was wildly inconsistent, and it started with quarterback Jameis Winston, who accounted for three turnovers in a 24-21 loss to the Detroit Lions that dropped them to 4-9.
In Winston’s second game back from injury, he threw two interceptions and had a lost fumble, setting up 14 points for the Lions. A franchise quarterback should not turn the ball over this much in a game at home when he’s fully-healthy.
The first interception came on second-and-9 in the second quarter. Rolling out of the pocket, Winston underthrew wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and cornerback Darius Slay cut in to take it. The takeaway set up a Lions touchdown by Golden Tate. While Winston’s pass was poorly thrown, Jackson didn’t appear to put much effort into the route.
“Twenty-three (Slay) made a great play,” Winston said. “I have to make a better throw or not throw it at all. Mike [Evans] was coming over late from the backside. I need to make a better decision there.”
Winston’s second pick came on the opening drive of the third quarter. Trying to hit tight end O.J. Howard on a seam route. He instead saw his pass land in the hands of cornerback Quandre Diggs, whom Winston and Koetter both believe got away with pass interference. Howard would have been in position to make the catch otherwise.
“I’m confident in saying that Jameis thought [O.J.] was going to be able to run by,” Koetter said. “Jameis thought [O.J.] was going to be able to get through the corner and safety there — that’s what it looked like to me, but I [was] looking at it from the side view.”
Winston might have been charged with a third interception when a pass intended for Jackson bounced out of the receiver’s hands and was recovered by Diggs, but the call was reversed and the play ruled an incomplete pass. Later, Winston fumbled as he was sacked at the Detroit 45-yard line, setting up another Lions touchdown.
“Listen, I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. They have a defense that plays too,” Winston said. “I know it’s a big thing of me ‘doing too much to try to make a play’ but that happens in the NFL. Obviously I have to do a better job of taking care of the football. The other turnovers — I can’t control those but I can definitely control mine and those three were very bad on me.”
Winston has now turned the ball over 53 times in 42 career games — second only to Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles since 2015. Last week against the Green Bay Packers, Winston’s fumble was returned by Dean Lowry for a touchdown that proved the difference-maker in a game that went into overtime.
He was able to deliver two touchdowns in the second half against the Lions: a 2-yard pass at the beginning of the fourth quarter on third-and-goal, with Howard selling the block and out-running a defensive end to the corner of the end zone; and then, off play-action, Winston found offensive tackle Leonard Wester (who had checked in as an eligible receiver) for another 2-yard touchdown, tying the game at 21-21.
“We still fought back and [had] a chance at this game,” Winston said. “If we score on those drives and don’t turn it over, it’s a different story. I have to do a better job of taking care of the football.”
It wasn’t just on Winston. At the end of the first quarter, Howard fumbled a 21-yard catch at the Detroit 17-yard line that was recovered by Diggs. Running back Doug Martin, who had a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, fumbled on third-and-1 late in the second quarter when the Bucs were at the Lions’ 23-yard line with a chance to tie it up just before halftime.
“It’s definitely frustrating, it’s definitely frustrating,” said Martin, who said that he needed to have the ball closer to his body on the play. “We’ve talked about protecting the ball all year and we’ve done a decent job of it, but this game, definitely not so.”
After Sunday’s loss, coupled with what happened in Green Bay last week, however, the Bucs now have 20 turnovers for the season, tied for fifth-most in the league.
They also have 83 penalties — 17th in the league — although no number can speak to the untimeliness of an illegal use of hands by Caleb Benenoch wiping out a 15-yard catch by Evans on a two-minute drive. Or the false start penalty with the game tied late in the fourth quarter. Or what happened last week when Evan Smith’s penalty killed the Bucs’ two-minute drill, instead sending them into overtime. Those penalties can’t happen, especially with the defense so short-handed.
Five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, their best pass-rusher, left the game in the second quarter with a right shoulder/biceps injury. Already struggling to get pressure even with a healthy McCoy, the defense had to rely on a back end that arguably has been even more inconsistent than the offense this year.
It was, however, able to generate three takeaways, with interceptions from cornerback Brent Grimes and Robert McClain and a fumble recovery from linebacker Lavonte David — holding the Lions to 10 points in the second half. A 46-yard field goal by Matt Prater won the game.
The Bucs were gifted by the schedule gods to play three of their four final games at home. A strong finish to a very rocky Year 3 could go a long way toward helping stoke confidence in Winston that has been waning. For Koetter, he needs all the help he can get to stick around for another year, and he didn’t get that Sunday.