Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston entered the league with questions about his ability to protect the football and control his emotions.
He was poor at both in the Bucs' 22-19 loss at Carolina Sunday. Winston had one of his best passing days with a 130 rating or higher for the second consecutive week. But he lost three fumbles — two on sacks and one on a botched center/quarterback exchange.
On the emotional side, Winston struggled. On the Bucs last possession of the game, he was hit by Panthers defensive tackle Kawaan Short and lost the fumble but believed he recovered it. Officials said the fumble went to defensive end Julius Peppers and awarded the ball to Carolina.
Winston then had one of his biggest outbursts. First, he had to be restrained on the field by receiver Chris Godwin and several teammates.
When he was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, he charged back onto the field and nearly knocked down Shelton Quarles, the Bucs director of football operations.
"I knew I had the ball and it didn't go my way,'' Winston said. "Now, looking back, I know I can't do that. But man, I want to win. That's just being competitive. If you want to win and if you feel like you had something and someone tells you otherwise, "Man. Come on now.
Other than the fumbles, two of them caused by poor pass protection and Winston holding onto the ball, he played one of his best games, completing 21 of 27 passes for 367 yards with one touchdown and no INTs.
"It was just the game. I wanted to win that game,'' Winston said. "Offense did a good job, I had a couple turnovers there that kind of hurt us – but having that turnover at the end of the game, man, that hurts. I don't like losing.''
Winston has lost his last eight starts. The frustration may have continued in the Bucs locker room when Winston, linebacker Kwon Alexander and several Bucs players got after defensive tackle Chris Baker about smiling and not showing remorse for his critical encroachment penalty just before the game-winning touchdown.
Linebacker Lavonte David, who was attempting to do an interview on radio at the time, can be heard yelling, "Yo, yo! Jameis! Jameis! Jameis!''
"I didn't confront Chris, period,'' Winston said. "I just joined a conversation that was going on. I didn't approach Chris at all.
"It's called self-policing. We're all grown men in there and we have to be accountable for everything we do. And we've got to be accountable to each other because this is the ultimate team game. So whether somebody is doing a great job or a not-so-well job, we have to be accountable for our mistakes and we have to fix it without the coach telling us what to do.''
On the field, there's no question that Winston has played better since returning from a shoulder injury he suffered at Arizona Oct. 15. Here is the breakdown. In Weeks 6-9 when injured: 65 for 105 (61.9%) 722 yds, 3 TDS, 3 INTs QB rating 79.9 Since returning from injury… 95 for 132 passing (72.0%) 1,221 yards, 8 TDs, 2 INTs QB rating 114.5 In fact, his 302 yard passing average per game ranks 1st in NFL ahead of Tom Brady (292).
"The numbers are so dramatic, I think like a lot of stuff, that's a hard one to measure,'' coach Dirk Koetter said. "No one really knows. It's hard on any injury, unless a guy can't run, it's hard to say. A shoulder injury for a quarterback, does it affect him five percent? Does it affect him 10 percent? At some percent there it's going to be he wouldn't have played, the doctors wouldn't have allowed him to play. It's a hard thing to judge, but the numbers are so dramatic. And when you talk to Jameis about that, he's got a couple other things that he would point too. But it's really hard, other than health, to say he's healthier, that's the main difference.''