First, Jameis Winston lost a fumble. Then the Buccaneers quarterback lost his composure, and his mind.
In fairness, Winston thought he had regained the football and that officials erred in awarding possession to the Panthers, a pivotal late-game moment in Tampa Bay’s 22-19 loss Sunday to Carolina. Still, such an angry display will likely bring admonitions from his team, if not the NFL, to do a better job of containing his emotions.
Winston was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his initial reaction, and that was before he stormed back onto the field from the sideline, appearing to shove a Buccaneers or stadium employee out of the way in the process. He did make a point of approaching referee Jerome Boger when the game ended, shaking the official’s hand.
The play on which Winston lost the ball — or was ruled to have done so — was costly indeed, coming with seconds left to essentially seal the Bucs’ loss while handing the rival Panthers a playoff berth. It was also Winston’s third lost fumble of the game, the first two of which came in Carolina territory and, all told, went a long way toward making the difference in a close game.
For Winston, it has been a frustrating season, beginning with high hopes on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” but set to end with 11 or 12 losses, depending on the outcome of next week’s finale against the playoff-bound Saints. The quarterback, who went first overall in the 2015 draft, played erratically over the first two months, then had to sit out Weeks 10 through 12 with a shoulder injury.
In four games since his return, Winston has played well, completing 72.0 percent of his passes for an average of just over 305 yards, with eight total touchdowns against just two interceptions. However, the Bucs have lost all of those games by a total of just 15 points, the past three each by three points.
In other words, Winston has reason to be in a less-than-placid frame of mind but, as Tampa Bay officials will likely point out, he needs to do a better job of staying cool under trying circumstances. A quarterback is always among a football team’s leaders, and from his first moments with the Bucs, Winston has taken it upon himself to fill that role, meaning he needs to be more mindful of the example he sets for his fellow players.
During a Week 9 loss to the Saints, Winston appeared to unnecessarily make contact with New Orleans’s Marshon Lattimore while on the sideline. Lattimore responded with a push, causing Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans to sprint over and give the Saints player a strong shove, leading to a one-game suspension for Evans.
Early in the season, Winston told reporters that the Bucs were trying to instill a “passion versus emotion” approach to performing in high-pressure situations. “It’s something that we preach every week here, having passion and losing the emotion,” the quarterback said (via ESPN). “I’m an emotional player, but I’ve always got to make sure that passion is winning.”
Last season, after earning a penalty and a fine from the NFL for head-butting Cowboys linebacker Justin Durant, Winston said, “I’m out there competing. Passion versus emotion. I can’t do that. It hurt us.”
When Winston reiterated after the loss to the Panthers that he was upset because he thought he had recovered that final fumble, some Bucs fans and other observers appreciated his passion. But while there is something to be admired about Winston’s competitive fire, he will want to dial back displays of emotion such as the one we saw Sunday.
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