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Winston manages to overcome poor opener

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TAMPA — Jameis Winston bounced back from his disastrous NFL debut by outplaying the Drew Brees in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Sunday’s 26-19 victory at New Orleans.

Winston called himself a “game manager,” but was more than that, starting with a terrific drive for the go-ahead touchdown at the end of the first half.

During a remarkable six-play, 63-yard drive, Winston showed off his arm. He went 4-of-5 for 54 yards and started a debate over which pass was prettier.

Was it the laser he fired into the middle of four Saints defenders to Vincent Jackson for a 17-yard gain on third-and-16? Or was it the dime he dropped into Jackson’s hands in the back of the end zone?

“You know, third-and-16 was good,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “But the touchdown pass, there was just a small window and he had to release it at a certain time. Good coverage on their part. That was a great throw. It might have been Jameis’ best throw on record here, I’d say.”

Winston came out of the locker room still wanting to fire.

After throwing a 22-yard bullet to Jackson on a deep cross to start the second half, he heaved the ball 41 yards to the end zone, where receiver Louis Murphy was interfered with.

The play set up Winston’s nifty one-yard run on a bootleg to his left.

“Jameis’ speed is talked about an awful lot,”‘ Smith said. “What a quarterback needs to do when he needs to run and be mobile in the pocket, he did that.

“I thought that was a pretty impressive touchdown run he had yesterday, too.”

Winston completed 14-of-21 passes for 207 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions for a passer rating of 114.6. It’s the fewest passes he has thrown in a game since his first start as a freshman at Florida State against Bethune-Cookman in 2013.

So why is Winston a game manager? Couldn’t he be a bigger part of the offense?

For starters, the Bucs don’t want to put too much on Winston’s plate as a rookie. Even Smith couldn’t be sure Winston would bounce back from his disastrous NFL debut against the Tennessee Titans and quarterback Marcus Mariota.

“That’s what we’ve seen from him throughout, when he’s had a day that’s not as good as he would like, he’s come back from it quick,” Smith said.

Another factor is Winston is playing behind two rookie offensive linemen — left tackle Donovan Smith and right guard Ali Marpet. If the Bucs want Winston for all 16 games, their offense needs to be balanced.

“They are a bunch of young guys figuring out this league together and it takes a while,” Smith said. “What we should see is improvement weekly.”

Smith doesn’t see why quarterbacks don’t want to be referred to as game managers in the first place.

“That’s just not a bad thing,” Smith said. “I think every quarterback should be a good game manager. We’re not going to run the ball 60 times and ask him to only play-action pass. No.

“But what we would like to do, we want to establish the run and from there it opens up everything else. Yes, when he’s played 15 years for us here, and you ask him that question, I would like for him to say, ‘Hey, I’m really managing that game well.'”

REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS

–PASSING OFFENSE: B — Quarterback Jameis Winston made some clutch throws Sunday. He got good protection for the most part. His two-minute drill at the end of the first half was a thing of beauty, as was the strike to wide receiver Vincent Jackson in the end zone.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B — The Bucs rushed for 139 yards on 35 carries and brought balance to the offense. That helped the play-action passing game, which resulted in several long shots by Winston downfield. Running back Doug Martin averaged better than six yards per carry in the first half. Credit rookie Ali Marpet for doing some special things in the run blocking game.

–PASS DEFENSE: B — Defensive end Jacquies Smith had three sacks of quarterback Drew Brees and forced two fumbles. His hit on Brees also limited his ability to throw the deep ball. The Bucs also had an interception by Chris Conte while limiting the Saints to one touchdown pass.

–RUSH DEFENSE: A — The Saints never really got their running game untracked. They averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Khiry Robinson was effective at times, but for the most part, the Bucs shut the ground game down.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus — Rookie kicker Kyle Brindza made four of his five field-goal attempts, including one from 55 yards. He also kicked the ball through the end zone on kickoffs. The Bucs also blocked an extra point and snuffed out a two-point conversion.

–COACHING: A — After last week’s meltdown in the season opener, head coach Lovie Smith got his team to press the restart button on the season. Road wins in the division are priceless.


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