TAMPA — On a day when he became Tampa Bay’s career passing leader, Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers lost another game.
“You just have to move on to the next game and get better,” the No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 NFL draft said. “That’s all I can say.”
The fifth-year pro threw for 194 yards and a touchdown Sunday, moving ahead of Vinny Testaverde for first place on the franchise’s all-time passing list with 14,822 yards in 57 games. He was also intercepted three times, with two of them being returned for touchdowns in a 31-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
It was exactly the kind of performance that’s become too common as Winston tries to establish himself as Tampa Bay’s long-term solution at quarterback. He overcame Richard Sherman’s early pick-six to lead a 75-yard TD drive to get the Bucs back in the game in the third quarter, only to falter down the stretch.
The 49ers sacked him three times and dropped what easily could have been two more interceptions before Ahkello Witherspoon intercepted a screen pass the quarterback was trying to throw away and ran 25 yards to put a six-point game out of reach with 2:01 remaining.
Tampa Bay lured Bruce Arians out of retirement last January in hopes the longtime coach and offensive coordinator could help Winston realize his potential. The coach is adamant that the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner has everything it takes to be elite if he can improve his decision-making and cut down on turnovers.
“It’s still a thing of growth,” Arians said. “You have a screen pass called. ... Our young running back goes inside and doesn’t get out on the screen. So, just throw it out of bounds. If you get a grounding (penalty), you get a grounding. But don’t leave it on the field of play.”
Winston completed 20 of 36 passes and was sacked three times. On one drive in the first half, holding calls on tackle Demar Dotson wiped out what would have been TD passes to Cameron Brate.
“We did a bad job of beating ourselves, and we’ve got to go back and stop that,” Dotson said. “If we do a better job of not beating ourselves, then we can beat somebody else.”
In addition to Winston’s three interceptions, tight end O.J. Howard lost a fumble to ruin one scoring opportunity. The Bucs also hurt themselves in the fourth quarter when, trailing 20-14, Arians decided against kicking a short field goal and the offense wound up turning the ball over on downs at the San Francisco 2.
“I don’t think there is any doubt about it,” the coach said, when asked if he felt his team beat itself. “We talked about it at the half, even, and before the game. ... That was the message. When we stop beating ourselves, we’ll be pretty good.”