The Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw their four-game winning streak snapped on Saturday with a narrow 23-20 loss to the visiting Houston Texans. Seventeen of Houston's 23 points came as the result of turnovers, which obviously makes Jameis Winston's four interceptions the top story for the game. Winston has now been picked off an NFL-high 28 times in 2019.
On Monday, Head Coach Bruce Arians was asked whether the high number of interceptions is something that can be corrected with adjustments or if, with Winston, they are just a matter of "him being him."
"I think it's about 50-50," said Arians. "The corrections have been made, but the results aren't happening."
That statement came from Arians' weekly day-after-game press conference on Monday, during which he touched on a number of other topics, including:
1. While the turnovers were the Bucs' biggest problem on offense Saturday, the inability to hit the deep ball also was critical to the final outcome.
Thanks in large part to continued improvement by the defense, the Buccaneers were able to crawl out of an early 14-point deficit and tie Saturday's game by halftime. It was still tied well into the fourth quarter, but the Bucs only generated three points after the break after getting 17 second-half points in wins over Indianapolis and Detroit the previous two weeks.
That could have been a vastly different story if the Bucs had been able to hit on a couple of the deep shots that looked like they had big-play potential. Winston failed to connect with O.J. Howard, Breshad Perriman and Justin Watson on a string of plays in which the pass-catcher got a step on his defender with no help over the top.
"Viewing the film – it was pretty much the same as we've been for four weeks, except we didn't hit the deep ball to win the game," said Arians. "Turnovers continue, but our guys fight, they're resilient and [we] gave ourselves a chance to win the game. We had three deep balls for touchdowns that we've hit each week, we just didn't hit them this past week."
Indeed, the Bucs had 28 completions of 20 or more yards during their four-game winning streak, including touchdowns of 71, 61, 34, 33, 25 and 25. The Bucs did get a couple of surprise big gains from Ishmael Hyman and Codey McElroy, but they weren't able to connect on the types of shots that had worked so well for them over the last month. A windy day at Raymond James Stadium didn't help.
"It's a game of inches," said Arians. Breshad's catch on the sideline, that was a big one but he's wide open on Vernon [Hargreaves] down the middle and you overthrow into the wind and overthrow with the wind – that type of thing. It's different than being in a dome than it is playing in the elements a little. It was windy enough to affect it. The double move to O.J., that was a big one."
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 16 matchup against Houston.
2. The Buccaneers' surging defense features a number of front-seven players potentially headed for free agency but Arians would like to keep as much of the unit together as possible.
Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh both signed one year "prove-it" deals with the Buccaneers this past spring, and they've certainly proved themselves. Barrett has shown that he can produce big numbers with an expanded role and has already tied the team's single-season sack record. If it was ever in doubt, Suh has demonstrated that, 10 NFL seasons in, he has a lot left in the tank.
In addition to those two, outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul (6.5 sacks) and Carl Nassib (6.0 sacks) are also on expiring contracts. That would mean that the Bucs have a lot of work to do if they want to keep as much of their defensive front intact, with a young and rapidly improving secondary behind it.
"All I can do is recommend to the people upstairs that we need them," said Arians. "The way we're playing defense right now, if we can stay together it's showing that we've turned the corner defensively."
While Barrett's impact is obvious in the statistics, Suh has made a difference in ways that aren't necessarily reflected in the numbers, and which can be seen not only in his own work but the results from his younger teammates.
"When you have veteran guy, who's been to the Super Bowl recently, and you put him a room and he really knows how to prepare, and he's really pro – not just mentally but physically – how to eat, how to stretch, how to do all the things he does to take care of himself – it really helps young players," said Arians.
Arians said he would meet with Suh about the future when the season is over. He believes the veteran defender will want to continue his playing career given the effort he has seen on the practice field and in games.
3. The playoffs are out of the picture and the Bucs' win streak is over but the final game still matters quite a bit to the coaches and players.
With the loss to Houston snapping a four-game winning streak, the Bucs can no longer ride a six-game run to a winning record. However, they can also avoid a losing record by taking the season finale against Atlanta on Sunday.
That game will also determine second place in the NFC South, which may not technically matter much except for the determination of the last two opponents on the Bucs' 2020 schedule. There will be some small shifting in the team's spot in the draft based on Sunday's result, too, but all in all there isn't a huge difference in finishing 8-8 and 7-9 for the Buccaneers this season.
Don't tell that to Arians. He made that clear to his players immediately after Saturday's game in the stadium locker room and he was no less emphatic about it on Monday.
"Eight-and-eight tastes a whole lot better all offseason," he said. "So yeah, we talked about it in the locker room right after the game. There [are] no losers in this locker room – let's make sure of it."