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Bucs’ Winston’s next test is against Watt

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TAMPA, Fla. — Keep the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the game.

That was the overriding message given to quarterback Jameis Winston, who rebounded from his disastrous debut against the Tennessee Titans to outplay quarterback Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints in a 26-19 win last Sunday.

Avoiding the major mistake early will be the formula that Winston will try to follow again on Sunday when the Buccaneers visit the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.

“The game was similar, I just made better decisions,” Winston said. “I didn’t turn the ball over. This game was situational football. I fumbled, but I didn’t have any picks, early picks that turned into a pick-six, so the game was the same.”

Winston, who has been sacked seven times this season, will face the best defensive player in the game Sunday — Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. The Bucs know they have to commit two, sometimes three blockers on Watt at all times.

“There’s a lot of focus on it, rightfully so, but you can say, ‘Hey, he is just another player, let’s do our thing,'” Winston said. “No, it doesn’t work like that. You have to put a lot of the focus on him and when you’re that type of football player, you have to do what you can to limit the opportunities that he gets and that’s tough duty. Easier said than done.

“I don’t think there is too much focus being placed on it. I just think that there are a few good defensive football players, no players in general, but just defensive (with) us talking defense. There’s more good defensive linemen on the field this week.”

The Bucs still need to do more on offense. They ran the ball well in the first half against the Saints but had only a field goal to show for it until Winston led then on a touchdown drive in the final 1:15 of the second quarter.

On Sunday, Winston will be without his favorite target, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is out 4-to-6 weeks because of with a shoulder sprain.

Fortunately, the Bucs will have full use of wide receiver Mike Evans, who was limited to about 25 plays against the Saints.

“Last week, any player comes off (an injury), you can’t go from no reps to an entire game, especially with a hamstring injury you have to, I wouldn’t say ease him in there, but you just have to watch the reps a little bit,” coach Lovie Smith said.

“Mike didn’t have any issues. He should be a lot better this week. Mike is one of the best players on our team, one of the best receivers in the league.

Whether Austin is able to go this week or not, Mike’s role has to increase. Normally something good happens for the Buccaneers if we are getting the ball up to Mike Evans. It’s good to see him back out there.”

The Texans (0-2) are desperate for a win.

Last week, quarterback Ryan Mallet threw 58 passes. Running back Arian Foster could miss Sunday’s game. If the Texans aren’t balanced, they will play right into the Bucs’ hands.

Either way, look for a game dominated by defense.

–Safety D.J. Swearinger of the Buccaneers played his first two seasons with the Texans before he was cut this summer, but there’s no hostility toward his former team as Tampa Bay goes to Houston this weekend.

“I believe everything happens for a reason,” Swearinger said Wednesday as the Bucs prepare to face the Texans. “There’s a reason I came here and a reason they let me go. You have to make the most out of it, and that’s what I’m doing.”

–With tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins out for a month or more because of a shoulder injury, the Bucs’ other tight ends must step up in his absence, as they did when he missed seven games because of injuries as a rookie last year.

“We’ve been in this position before,” tight end Luke Stocker said. “We’re familiar with how our roles will be changing. It’s an opportunity for our room to step up and make plays. Obviously we’d love to have Austin out there, but that’s not what’s in the cards this week. We’re excited about the opportunity to go out and make plays and try to win the game.”

–WR Mike Evans (hamstring) was on a pitch count last week coming and did not have a catch despite three targets. He was not limited in practice Wednesday and should be a focal point of the offense.

–DE T.J. Fatinikun (shoulder) was limited in practice Wednesday.

–CB Mike Jenkins (hamstring), who did not play last week at New Orleans, was limited in practice Wednesday.

–DT Gerald McCoy, who injured his right shoulder and was unable to finish the game against the Saints, was limited in practice Wednesday.

–C Evan Smith (right ankle) and did not practice Wednesday.

–C Joe Hawley took first team reps at center and could start against the Texans on Sunday.

–S Major Wright (abdomen), who did not play Sunday at New Orleans, did not practice Wednesday.


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