On the first drive of Sunday’s game, Jameis Winston threw a bad interception right to Detroit Lions linebacker Jahlani Tavai.
It was the fifth time Winston threw an interception on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ opening drive this season. Quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers hadn’t thrown more than five interceptions all season before Week 15. It was Winston’s 24th interception of the season, eight more than anyone else at that moment.
Winston finished the half with 308 yards and three touchdowns. All with a broken thumb, and without Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans. The Buccaneers beat the Lions 38-17 to improve to 7-7. Winston finished with 458 yards and four touchdowns.
Try figuring out the Winston puzzle. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have to, and a small fortune rides on their decision.
Winston might be the most confounding quarterback in the NFL now, and maybe in recent memory. Put on the film of his best plays, and you see an aggressive quarterback able to make all the throws. He even has made a statement about his toughness the past couple weeks, coming back into last week’s game after fracturing his thumb and throwing for 456 yards, and playing through the injury Sunday. At his best, Winston is really good.
But we all know you can’t eliminate the bad parts. The interception to Tavai was brutal, as most of Winston’s 24 interceptions have been. It has been five years. If it hasn’t changed by now, it’s not going to change. This is who he is.
"I'm going to pass on that one,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said earlier this month when asked if he would recommend an extension for Winston, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. “I'm going to wait until the end of December. There's been really, really good and there's been some really, really bad ...”
Winston will get paid by someone. He has a chance at 5,000 yards. He still has a chance to lead the NFL in touchdown passes, especially if the Baltimore Ravens clinch the No. 1 seed and rest Lamar Jackson some. Winston is making $20.9 million this season, the last on his rookie deal. That seems like a starting point for annual salary. Some team will roll the dice on his talent if the Buccaneers don’t.
But it seems like a good bet the Buccaneers are going to take the easy route and invest in Winston. The NFL makes its worst mistakes at quarterback, and most are out of fear of the unknown. The Buccaneers know that Winston will throw some crushing interceptions. But general managers and coaching staffs generally don’t survive hitting the reset button at quarterback. The pressure amps up a bit when you have to move on from a No. 1 overall pick like Winston.
So the Buccaneers presumably will either give Winston a huge extension or a franchise tag, and then pray Winston will eliminate the mistakes (good luck with that) or hope they can live with them. They’re going to be gambling a lot of money on it, if they take the easy road and pay Winston for more years of inevitable frustration.
It’s hard to even come up with a fair market for Winston. The Buccaneers would likely rather have Winston on a short deal, but Winston might not have to accept that. Another team that is desperate at quarterback could talk themselves into giving Winston a huge deal to lure him away, assuming no franchise tag. The Buccaneers aren’t exactly going to be able to dictate terms once they start negotiating.
Winston made some great plays on Sunday, and that’s the red herring. The Buccaneers will take a look at those plays and it will seem like a good idea to give him a new contract, especially if they skip past the trademark Winston pick on that first drive.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Sunday’s action in Week 15 of the NFL season:
New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers: The Atlanta Falcons made the NFC playoff race a little more interesting.
The Falcons pulled off a massive upset on Julio Jones’ touchdown with 2 seconds left, pushing the 49ers to 11-3. Remarkably, if the Saints beat the Colts on Monday night we’ll have four 11-3 NFC teams with two weeks to go. Two of those teams are going to be playing wild-card weekend, and one of the NFC West teams will have to go on the road.
The 49ers’ loss might not end up hurting them. They need to win at Seattle in Week 17, but that would have been the case had they won on Sunday. If they win that game and end up in a tie with the Saints, they’ll be the No. 1 seed based on a tiebreaker. But It’s also possible they go 12-4 and finish as the No. 5 seed.
There’s a lot to be decided in the final two weeks. But the 49ers’ loss should be well received in Green Bay, Seattle and New Orleans.
Gardner Minshew II: Minshew made sure there would be no happy ending for the Raiders in Oakland.
Minshew threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to lead Jacksonville to a comeback 20-16 win over the Raiders, who were playing their last game in Oakland. The game-winning touchdown pass came in the last minute.
Every game Minshew plays is an audition for 2020. Nick Foles is still very likely to be around because the Jaguars can’t realistically get out of his contract after one year. Jacksonville is paying Foles a lot of money and that will matter next offseason when they consider who to start.
it will also matter if Minshew finishes this season strong. He has had a promising rookie season and could be a future answer for the Jaguars. Jacksonville will remember the comeback win on Sunday when it considers who will be the quarterback in 2020 and beyond.
Kenyan Drake: When Adam Gase was coach of the Miami Dolphins, he never gave Drake a real shot to be a featured back.
Like Ryan Tannehill and DeVante Parker, Drake is thriving this season now that he’s away from Gase. Drake had a monster game on Sunday with 137 rushing yards and four touchdowns as the Cardinals blew out the disappointing Cleveland Browns.
Drake has played well ever since the Cardinals traded for him during this season. It was an odd trade at the time for a team that had no realistic playoff shot. But Drake, who can be a free agent after this season, has been a nice positive for the Cardinals. Perhaps they’ll re-sign him and permanently make him their lead back, replacing oft-injured David Johnson.
Finally, someone gave Drake a shot. He’s doing pretty well with his opportunity.
Stephon Gilmore’s NFL defensive player of the year campaign: Why not Gilmore for NFL defensive player of the year?
Gilmore has been the most impactful player for a New England Patriots defense that is the best in the NFL or very close. Gilmore had a signature game on Sunday, giving a boost to a Patriots team that was struggling along with the Cincinnati Bengals. Gilmore had two interceptions, one of which he took 64 yards for a touchdown. That gave New England a 27-10 lead and eliminated all doubt about who would win. The Patriots won 34-13 and are still in line to get a first-round bye.
Gilmore was a fantastic free-agent investment for the Patriots, who took him from the Buffalo Bills. He got a five-year, $65 million deal in 2017. New England doesn’t always make big, splashy signings, but Gilmore was a smart one. And this season he might be the best defensive player in football.
Patrick Mahomes: For a guy who was born and raised in Texas, Mahomes seemed pretty comfortable in the snow.
We got a good NFL snowstorm game, and Mahomes played like it was the middle of September. He rarely missed in the bad conditions, putting on a show as the Chiefs dominated the Denver Broncos. He completed 27-of-34 passes for 340 yards in an easy 23-3 win.
Mahomes and the Chiefs are steadily gaining momentum for the playoffs. Travis Kelce came alive Sunday with a huge game. He had 11 catches for 142 yards. The defense played well again to cool off Broncos rookie quarterback Drew Lock. And we saw on Sunday that even if the Chiefs get a bad weather game in the playoffs, the offense will do just fine.
Tyler Lockett and the Seahawks’ NFC West hopes: A couple things were clear heading into Week 15 for Seattle: If the Seahawks won their next two games they would have a chance to play the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC West title at home in Week 17, and they’d have a tough time winning the division if receiver Tyler Lockett didn’t look like his old self.
Given that, Sunday was a big day for the Seahawks. They went on the road and handled business at the Carolina Panthers, winning 30-24, and saw Lockett play well again. Lockett had been very quiet since suffering a shin injury in the first meeting against the 49ers that required a short hospital stay, but he was back on Sunday. He passed the 100-yard mark and was the explosive playmaker the Seahawks need. Lockett finished with 120 yards and a touchdown on eight catches.
Seattle has a home date against Arizona next week. Win that, and they’ll be alive for the division crown heading into the season finale. Lockett’s reemergence gives them a better shot at winning that game, too.
Justin Reid, Whitney Mercilus and a likely AFC South-winning play for the Texans: The Titans had been on a roll before Sunday, sparked by a nice stretch of play from quarterback Ryan Tannehill. It looked like they could chase down the Texans for the division title.
That’s a lot less likely now. The Texans had an impressive win at Tennessee. The game turned on one great defensive play. With the Titans at the 5-yard line, Tannehill threw a quick slant to Anthony Firkser, and Reid sold out to blast him just before he scored. Reid knocked the ball loose, Mercilus picked it off and went 86 yards the other way. It was a fantastic play that set up the first score of the game, putting the Texans up 7-0. The interception was the clear turning point in a hard-fought 24-21 win.
The Titans get another shot at the Texans in Week 17, but it will be hard for them to rally and win the division now. The Texans needed a big road win to take back control of the division, and the defense helped make it happen.
Sean McVay: McVay got as much praise for his first two seasons as any coach we’ve ever seen. At times, you wondered if he actually had reinvented the NFL in his early 30s.
It’s only fair to point out that the Rams are a big disappointment, and McVay deserves blame in that.
McVay’s offense was mostly silent in a 44-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that effectively takes the Rams out of the playoff picture. Two fourth-quarter touchdowns in garbage time only made the stats look a little better. The Rams were in a must-win spot and it looked like they weren’t ready to play.
McVay was hailed as an offensive genius, but his offense has been inconsistent this season. Jared Goff hasn’t looked like the same quarterback. The offensive line has struggled. The Rams have just seemed off most of the season. A mediocre season doesn’t mean McVay isn’t a great coach. But after everyone gushed about him for two years, he’s having a. rough third year.
Melvin Gordon: Nothing really went the way Gordon planned this season.
His holdout from the Los Angeles Chargers didn’t result in a new contract. He came back and the Chargers offense actually seemed to get worse, since Austin Ekeler was doing just fine in a full-time role with Gordon out. Then came Sunday.
Gordon fumbled twice and that helped the Vikings roll to a 39-10 win. Gordon seemed to be benched for a while after his second fumble. He fumbled early in the third quarter, and didn’t touch the ball again until midway through the fourth quarter.
Gordon has had a rough year. So have the Chargers. They’ll be able to part ways after two more games together.
The Eagles, even in a win: Squeaking out late wins against the Giants and Redskins shouldn’t impress anyone, especially when it comes to the Eagles.
Yes, the Eagles won both games. They beat the Giants in overtime on Monday night and then Carson Wentz hit Greg Ward for a touchdown in the final minute to get a comeback win over Washington on Sunday. Philadelphia scored a defensive touchdown on the final play to end it and win 37-27. The Giants and Redskins are bad football teams. The Eagles shouldn’t get too much credit for falling behind both teams and then rallying to win. They looked bad for most of the game, especially with the defense allowing a poor Washington offense to move the ball all day.
Still, Philadelphia is alive for a playoff spot. The NFC East is still not decided, and the Eagles have stayed alive for it despite their overall malaise this season. Their game against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16 should still decide the division. Neither team really deserves it, as the Eagles showed again Sunday.
The Chicago Bears’ slight playoff chances: OK, everyone can officially quit dreaming of a miracle Bears run to the playoffs.
The offense was to blame again. The Bears failed to generate any running game and didn’t get enough big plays in the passing game against a Green Bay Packers defense that hasn’t been great lately. The Bears didn’t score a touchdown until a little more than eight minutes remained and the Packers had a 21-6 lead. The Bears still had a shot, trailing 21-13 with just under seven minutes left, but Trubisky threw an interception under pressure to Packers defensive end Dean Lowry. The Bears’ last shot on a lateral play at the end was fumbled away a few yards short of the goal line.
For the Packers, it was a huge win. They can make their Week 16 game at the Minnesota Vikings a non-factor in the NFC North race by beating the Detroit Lions in the season finale, and the Lions don’t look like they can beat any NFL team right now.
For the Bears, it has been a rough encore to their division title and breakout season from a year ago. The defense hasn’t been quite as great and Mitchell Trubisky took steps back. Trubisky played better the past few weeks, but Sunday’s performance will bring up many of the well-worn questions about him. Chicago has a lot of work to do this offseason.
The New York Giants’ pursuit of the No. 2 overall pick: The Giants won their third game of the season on Sunday, beating the Miami Dolphins 36-20, which was nice for Eli Manning and bad for the organization as a whole.
The Giants could have secured at least the second pick of the draft by losing their remaining games. The Bengals seem like a good bet for the No. 1 pick, but assuming they pick LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (or whichever quarterback they settle on), that would put the Giants in line for Ohio State defensive end Chase Young if Young declares for the draft. Young looks like a future superstar.
The Giants don’t want to screw that up and lose Young to the Dolphins or anyone else. Players and coaches don’t try to lose in the NFL, but the Giants would not enjoy seeing Young terrorize quarterbacks on another team for the next decade.
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