Jameis Winston's least accurate throw on Friday was probably the one that best illustrated his progress this week.
Winston, who is recovering from an injury to the AC joint of his throwing shoulder, was limited to mental reps and handoffs on Wednesday and Thursday but was expected to run the first-team offense in practice on Friday. During an early passing-on-air drill in the red zone, with all three of the Bucs' quarterbacks tossing passes, Winston turned towards rookie tight end O.J. Howard, who was running an out deep in the end zone. Winston let fly with a pass that got nowhere Howard, nor the end zone. Instead, it flew about 40 yards and landed harmlessly at the line of assembled media, well back from the field.
It was a playful moment for Winston, but also one that seemed to send a message to those who have spent the week disseminating updates about his shoulder (this author included): My shoulder is just fine.
If there was any remaining mystery to the question of whether Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick would start on Sunday in Buffalo after that non-verbal clue, Head Coach Dirk Koetter erased it immediately after practice.
"Jameis threw the ball well today," said Koetter, confirming that the third-year passer was able to make every kind of throw required. "Jameis is our starter. He will be out there [on Sunday]."
Winston's career-opening streak of games started will stretch to 38 when he takes the first snap in Buffalo. His early exit in Arizona last Sunday was the first time in his NFL career that he had left a game due to injury. After that game, Winston felt confident that he would not have to miss a start, and he has been proven right.
The Buccaneers own the NFL's second-ranked passing offense, averaging almost exactly 300 yards through the first five games. Fitzpatrick contributed 290 yards during his relief performance in Arizona, but obviously most of Tampa Bay's prolific numbers through the air have come with Winston at the helm. The Buccaneers face Buffalo's 21st-ranked pass defense on Sunday, though the Bills' secondary has accounted for eight interceptions in five games.