Last interception by Winston dooms the Bucs

by Gary Shelton on December 30, 2019

in general

Falcons' linebacker Deion Jones (45) scores on the winning interception./© JOE MESTAS

Monday, 4 a.m.

It was the final insult, the final stake into the heart of his team. It was the latest defeat, the most recent case of throwing it to the wrong team. It was a play that will sit with the Bucs, and their followers, for some time to come.

Jameis Winston's freshest interception cost them a game, a .500 season and any good taste in their mouths Sunday. Winston threw a down-and-out into the hands of Falcons cornerback Deion Jones, who returned it 28 yards for the winning points in a 28-22 overtime victory by Atlanta over the Bucs.

Winston became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 30 interceptions and 30 or more touchdowns in a single season.

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Bucs' running back Ronald Jones had his first 100-yard game//@ JOE MESTAS

“A very disappointing loss," said Bucs' coach Bruce Arians, "I thought we had this game. Obviously, the field goal misses caused us to go to overtime. The lack of third down production in the second half was huge, (along with) the penalties. It was really us beating us. We’d kind of gotten over that, but we found a new way to spot somebody 10 points.”

Winston had help, of courses. Bucs' kicker Matt Gay missed three field goals, and the Bucs had 97 yards of penalties. Winston threw for only 20 yards -- he was three of seven -- after halftime.

“Well, it doesn’t help," Arians said of Winston's last interception. "That’s for sure. There are a lot of great things. We ran a great two-minute drive before the half. There’s a lot of things to evaluate and we will take our time and evaluate them.

It sure looked like (a bad decision). (Tight end Cameron Brate) was covered. He went to his favorite guy, but he was covered.”

Winston didn't think so. He thought he could get the ball to Brate.

“He was open," Winston said. "This is football. This is a game of inches. The ball got tipped and it went straight to him. There’s been a lot of instances where I throw to Cam and it’s a bang-bang play. We’re going out there and we get a first-down completion. The ball doesn’t get tipped – it’s a completion. The ball gets tipped – it magically ends up in someone’s hand. That’s stuff that you can’t control.

“You just go to the drawing board and find a way (to stop the interceptions). I really don’t know. Some crazy stuff has been happening. I’ve got to get better. I just got to fix it. I threw a lot of touchdowns here too and for a lot of yards. So, I just know what I got to fix and I will.” 

Maybe. But this one, like most of the others, came down to Winston. When he's good, his passing yards are usually the reason the Bucs win. When he's bad, his interceptions are usually the reason they lose. But too often, he is both at the same time, and it reduces the chances of winning with every throw.

In the end, the Bucs were 7-9 in a season that could have been better and could have been worse. It was the eighth losing season in the last nine for the Bucs and their 12th straight without the playoffs.

Perriman was Winston's top receiver again./© JOE MESTAS

The Bucs did not score in the second half of Sunday's game.

The Bucs' players who finished strong? Tampa Bay had six sacks against Atlanta and five passes deflected. Shaq Barrett had three sacks and Jason Pierre-Paul had two. Breshad Perriman caught five passes for 134 yards, and Ronald Jones had his first-ever 100-yard rushing game with 106.

"We’ve been really good at the end of halves, but we struggle sometimes at the end of games," Arians said. "Talent was never an issue with this football team. I said that from the day I took the job that we have enough talent to win. We should have easily had 10 wins, but we beat ourselves.”

Winston said he wasn't concerned with not being brought back.

"That’s the last thing on my mind." Winston said. "I’m focused on how I can get better, because I know if I eliminate those I’m going to be the best. So, that’s bar none. You better check your sheet. I eliminate those I’m going to be the best.” 

Vita Vea sacks Matt Ryan during Sunday's game./.© JOE MESTAS

Shaq Barrett is there already. He finished the season with three sacks, giving him 19 1/2 for the season.

“It just means a lot," Barrett said. "I wanted to not be second place in the league in sacks no more. I wanted to try and finish with a boom, with a bang and it ended up working out that way. I didn’t come out here saying I’m going to get three sacks, I came out here saying I’m going to pass rush, put all my effort in it and it came out and turned into three sacks. It’s just an amazing feeling to be able to know I want to do it in my head and actually be able to do it without forcing it.” 

Barrett said he wasn't thinking about free agency.

Bucs' linebacker Devin White runs for 91 yards with a fumble.© JOE MESTAS

“It really hasn’t crossed my mind because I don’t have plans on leaving Tampa," Barrett said. "I don’t think Tampa has plans on me leaving so I don’t think I’m going to be anywhere. I’m just paying attention to the season now and planning that I’m going to be here for the future.”

Rookie linebacker Devin White scored on a 91-yard fumble return.

“It was a great play by Jason (Pierre-Paul)," White said. "That guy, he’s unbelievable, in year 10 still getting to the quarterback like he does. Every time we’re in practice I’m always trying to be around the ball and pick the ball up and get it to the end zone. I was mad at myself. I feel like I was the reason we lost the last game against the Houston Texans is because I could’ve ensured seven points on the board for my team and I didn’t do that. This time when I picked the ball up, I just said ‘I got to get seven, I got to get seven.’ It was just the whole mindset to score.”

David takes down Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman./© JOE MESTAS

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