Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

November 22, 2018 at 1:34 am.

QB Winston back under center for Bucs

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going back to the future by starting quarterback Jameis Winston Sunday against the 49ers.

Winston insists he only had one really bad game in three starts – a four-interception day at Cincinnati – but the success of Ryan Fitzpatrick early in the season and the ‘Fitzmagic,’ phenomenon probably led to his benching.

“Guys, again, you guys really look at film, the Cincinnati game was just a really bad game,” Winston said. “If you were to grade me in those other two games, I played pretty good football. The Atlanta game I had a bonehead turnover in the red zone that could’ve cost us. The Cleveland game, I had a bonehead turnover in overtime. Previous to that, we drove the ball downfield and we gave our team a chance to win late in the game.”

So why wasn’t he given more chances?

“Yeah man, I think we can go back to how this season started. Fitz-magic. That was all the talk. He was playing excellent. And again, if you watch the film, he was playing good. We made some mistakes. In terms of I can’t speak for Coach (Dirk) Koetter. I agree with him. We want to win. And any way our individual selves can add to that, we’re going to try our best to do that.

“I can’t control the perception of Fitzmagic. I bought in too because our team was winning. And that’s the most important thing to me, on Sundays, on Mondays, the Buccaneers are winning.”

After Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions and put the Bucs in a 31-14 hole against the New York Giants last Sunday, Winston came off the bench and led the Bucs to touchdown drives in four straight possessions. He finished 12-of-16 passing for 199 yards with two touchdowns. His only interception came when he tried to connect with DeSean Jackson on a deep pass with 23 seconds remaining in the game.

That performance earned Winston the start Sunday against the 49ers. The Bucs have picked up his fifth-year club option for $20.9 million but it is guaranteed only against injury.

The Bucs seem willing to roll the dice on that in order to use the final six games to determine whether they want Winston to return in 2019. Winston was asked if this amounts to an audition for his future in Tampa Bay.

“I think every game to me is kind of like that just because of the standard of excellence in this league and the aspirations that I have to be the best,” Winston said. “So, I’m always trying to show what I’m about, showing how I can lead and show how I can execute.”

Ever since the NFL informed Winston in July of his three-game suspension for the Uber incident in 2016, it’s been hard for him to maintain any kind of consistency.

He took second-team reps mostly in training camp and the preseason as the Bucs prepared Fitzpatrick to start at least the first three games. Fitzpatrick was white hot to start the season. He passed for at least 400 yards in each of his first three games, an NFL record. He also threw 11 touchdown passes.

Meanwhile, Winston could not be around his teammates and had to organize workouts with former NFL players and free agents.

He said, “Yeah, it’s something that I’ll probably have to think about after the season. Right now, I’m focused on winning. That’s my main concern right now and how we can do that and how I can lead us to doing it.

“I think that’s been a part of my reality this year. But as a professional, my job is to go out there and execute on Sundays. My job is to find a way to provide for my four-month-old and my family. Anything that I went through this year, bring it with open arms because that’s my profession to overcome that and God has blessed me with opportunity to be in this position again, to help provide for my family and to use the talents that he’s blessed me with, so I’m going to do that.”

The Bucs are 3-7 and lost seven of their past eight games following a 2-0 start. With the Niners at 2-8, this game looms more as a possible showdown for the No. 1 overall pick.

That’s not what the Bucs had in mind when the season started and Fitzpatrick got the team off to a 2-0 start.

Defensively, the Bucs are last in the NFL, allowing 32.9 points per game. The 49ers like to run the football and are third in the league, averaging 133.6 yards per game on the ground.

But the Bucs have the No. 1 overall total offense. Better than the Saints, Rams and Chiefs. They simply can’t finish drives, fall behind and turn the ball over. They are a league-worst minus-23 in turnover ratio.

After Fitzpatrick committed eight turnovers in three games, Koetter had no recourse but to go back to Winston.

Winston was asked if he was hurt by Koetter going back to Fitzpatrick after the Bengals game, essentially proving he had more trust in another quarterback.

“He didn’t say that,” Winston said. “It showed that he wanted to win. I think it hurt me more that we lost.”

All the while, Winston said he still believed he was the best quarterback to lead the Bucs.

“Like I said, my standard is to be the best no matter what’s the circumstance. I have to be the best. That’s how you get longevity. That’s how you win games. That’s how all of us in here feel better about the season. That’s all I’m focused on.”

Does Winston believe the Bucs are committed to him for 2019?

“I just know I’m committed to this team and to do my best to provide opportunity for me later,” he said.

SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular season meeting. 49ers lead series, 17-5. The Bucs won the last meeting at Levi’s Stadium 34-17 in 2016.