Since returning from a three-week rest prompted by an injured throwing shoulder, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has been among the most efficient passers in the NFL for the last month. In fact, his passer rating in the four weeks since his return, 114.5, leads the NFL, and his 72.0% completion rate ranks third in that span.
Those three weeks of rest appear to have been the key – and perhaps in more ways than one – to Winston finishing his third NFL season on such a strong note. Obviously, his healed shoulder is the most important product of that time off, and it's allowing him to make the sort of precision throws that had him off to a good start to 2017 before his injury. And while it's harder to quantify, the time Winston spent actively observing the game from the sideline may have helped hone the mental side of his game.
Whether or not there's any causality in that second part, it's undeniable that Winston has been very making good decisions as to where to deliver the football down the final stretch of the season.
"There [are] a million ways you can slice up statistics," said Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "I think if you look at the games Jameis was healthy this year, his statistics are pretty good. It's hard to say exactly which games he was entirely healthy and which ones he wasn't, but we know there was a part there in the middle where he wasn't. I think health is the number one thing with Jameis' recent performance and then he has been making excellent decisions."
Winston set his own single-game high by completing 77.1% of his passes in Tampa Bay's narrow loss to the Atlanta Falcons in a Week 15 Monday-nighter. That personal record lasted all of six days, as he was good on 77.8% of his throws against Carolina. This improved accuracy has not come at the expense of him pressing the ball downfield; Winston had four completions of 30 or more yards against the Panthers and averaged a career-high 13.59 yards per pass attempt. The average length of his completions at the point the ball is caught in that span is 7.7 yards, the second-highest mark in the NFL.
"Again, I would attribute it to health, but he has been really throwing the proper type of pass based on the route and the coverage," said Koetter. "By that, I mean he is not trying to throw too hard, he is throwing with excellent touch [and] when he does have to put in there, he has done that as well. That would lead me to believe that he wasn't able to do those [things] in some of those games, but there is a lot to that. There is defenses involved and routes and who is open and who is not and reads, but Jameis has played pretty darn well here these last few games since he has come back."
Winston turns 24 on January 6, a week after his third NFL season ends. His 11,273 career passing yards are already the most any NFL quarterback has compiled before his 24th birthday, surpassing the mark of 10,556 previously set by Drew Bledsoe. His teams haven't won enough to either his or the Buccaneers' satisfaction, and there are clearly still areas of his own performance that warrant improvement. Winston's hot streak down the stretch in 2017 – in terms of how it reflects on both the physical and mental aspects of his game – offer hope that he will continue to develop into a true franchise quarterback.