The Nitty Gritty
Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston had a record-setting season in the final year of his contract in Tampa Bay. He finished as the NFL's passing leader, the first time the title was ever held by a Buccaneer, after throwing for 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns. That's the eighth-highest single-season passing yards total in league history and his 33 touchdowns are the most in a single season in franchise history. His 19,737 career passing yards are the second-most by a player in their first five seasons in NFL history behind only Peyton Manning.
Winston had 11 games with at least 300 passing yards, tying for the third-most such games in a single season. He posted back-to-back games of over 450 yards passing with four touchdowns in each, becoming the first player in league history to ever accomplish the feat. Simply put, Winston had an incredibly productive season.
With that said, it'd be irresponsible not to mention Winston also threw 30 interceptions while getting acclimated to a brand-new Bruce Arians offense. Whether that adjustment was to blame or not remains to be seen and therefore, his return to Tampa hangs in the balance with an expired contract as of the new league year.
It's a decision the organization isn't taking lightly. Arians stressed at the end of 2019 how much good there is in Winston's game. And where he may have regressed in one area, he improved in others.
The deep ball, for example.
That was a big knock on the fourth-year quarterback in 2018. Winston returned for 2019 and was extraordinarily effective heaving the ball down the field. So, at the risk of this film review being a thesis, the deep ball and Winston's improvement with his plethora of receivers is the ensuing focus. Relive some of Winston's best throws with me below.
Week Four @ LA
This game was just outrageous in so many ways. The Bucs scored the most points in a single game ever, putting up 55 against the Rams in the L.A. Coliseum. It was backed by a Winston performance where he completed 28 of 41 attempts (a 68% completion rate) for 385 yards and four touchdowns against just one interception. It resulted in a 120.5 passer rating for Winston, which wasn't even his best of the season.
Despite jumping out to a 21-0 lead in the first half, by the fourth quarter, the Rams had inched closer. They had pulled within 11 points with over 12 minutes left in the game – but that's when Winston and the Bucs answered in a big way. A 67-yard bomb to none other than wide receiver Mike Evans, complete with a LeBron celebration (right in front of Kawhi Leonard sitting in the stands, mind you), to put the game further out of reach.
How beautiful was that? Clearly Evans was having fun and why wouldn't he? The Bucs are in 12 personnel in what ends up being a 2x2 formation as tight end O.J. Howard motions to Evans' side pre-snap. Howard releases into a route, forcing the two defenders to the play side into a one-on-one situation with both him and Evans. The Rams are in Cover 0, meaning an all-out blitz, banking on the fact they can get to Winston before he's able to release the ball. After faking the handoff, Winston quickly recognizes Evans has beat his man with his deceptive speed and is streaking down the field on a post. The offensive line does a great job holding because just before the pressure gets there, Winston launches the ball where it hits Evans perfectly in stride and he takes it the rest of the way, or rather skips the rest of the way, into the end zone. Winston did a great job not panicking in the face of pressure and recognizing/exploiting a favorable matchup.
Week 12 @ ATL
This was another really fun game for the Bucs' offense, and Winston, in particular. Winston is from Bessemer, Alabama, which is only about an hour away from Atlanta. As such, Winston talks about and treats each game in Atlanta as almost a homecoming game. This particular day, he had dozens of friends and family members in attendance.
Whether it's because of that or some other reason, Winston also always seems to play well against the Falcons. He has an average passer rating of 109.1 in nine games against them. He's scored 25 touchdowns against Atlanta, too. Yes, they're a division rival, but that's over double what he's thrown against New Orleans in the same amount of games.
Why don't we take a look at one of those touchdowns now – this one to Chris Godwin to give the Bucs the lead after going down 3-0 early in the game.
The Bucs are in a 3x1 formation with an attached bunch to Winston's right. Evans is the lone receiver to Winston's left and Godwin is the point of the trio. Those are the two receivers the Falcons are worried about most – and with good reason. Atlanta has two high safeties and are showing a zone look. The free safety almost immediately takes off to help the corner with Evans overtop. The advantage to the bunch formation is that defenders have to wait and see who enters their zone before reacting. It allows Godwin to get enough of a jump and escape down the seam. Even with a defender trailing him and the safety now reacting to where Winston is looking with the ball, Winston places it right on the money between the hashes to hit Godwin. He did a great job standing his ground, too, taking his five-step drop to give Godwin enough time to get to the spot while staying upright in the pocket and ignoring the pressure around him.
Week 15 @ DET
This was the Breshad Perriman game. While the circumstances of him being thrust into a larger role were unfortunate (hamstring injuries to both Mike Evans and then Chris Godwin), he made the absolute most of his opportunity and we all finally got to see BP shine. The first of his three touchdowns in Detroit came on a great ball from Winston, who was actually a huge reason Perriman signed with the Bucs. Perriman said after the season that he and Winston had a long conversation that helped him make his decision to come to Tampa in free agency. Their connection clicked in a major way by the end of the year, as evidenced by the below.
The Bucs are in 12 personnel, with tight ends Cam Brate and O.J. Howard flanking the formation. Perriman is aligned tight and mirroring Godwin (who would go down later in the game) halfway between the hash and the numbers. Both wideouts take off as Winston fakes the handoff to Ronald Jones. It's enough to get two of the underneath linebackers to bite on the run. Brate pulls one of the two-high safeties down to cover him underneath, leaving Perriman one-on-one with his man. Perriman then cuts inside his defender, where Winston hits him right over the middle as he crosses into the end zone. It almost looked too easy but it was a great job by Winston to sell the handoff then stay patient behind a couple great blocks by his line to end up throwing the ball in the perfect spot.
Week 17 vs. ATL
Winston came up clutch with his deep ball on more than one occasion this season. Down 16-14 right before the half against Atlanta at home, Winston went to work with Perriman, hitting not one but two long passes to move the Bucs down the field in a hurry as time was running out. With 28 seconds left before halftime, Winston fired the below to Perriman:
Talk about threading the needle. Winston has trips to his right with Perriman as the #2 receiver. With three defenders in the area, Winston doesn't even hesitate, placing this ball perfectly to Perriman for the big gain, getting the Bucs into Falcons' territory. It was such a tight window and such a specific placement but he absolutely nailed it; ahead of the defender trailing Perriman, inside of the defender closing in on the outside of him and before the other safety could get there. He then followed it up two plays later with the go-ahead score to give the Bucs the lead going into halftime.
This is the quintessential Jameis Winston play. It showcases the absolute best in his game. The Bucs have a 3x1 formation with Perriman as the #3 receiver closest to the formation to Winston's left. Perriman then crosses to the opposite corner of the end zone. But before Perriman can get there, Winston has been flushed out of the pocket and is on the run, taking off to his right. That means, in order to throw, he's going to have to somehow stop his momentum suddenly and accurately throw a ball into an extremely specific spot while on the run.
Somehow, he does it and gets it to where Perriman can go up and get it without it sailing out of the back of the end zone. It's thrown off his back foot, while a defender is right up in his face. Yet, Winston completes it for the score. It was an equally impressive catch, to be sure, but there are so few people that could throw that ball. Winston is one of them.