An injury to a quarterback with 565 career touchdown passes means that as of this Sunday, Jameis Winston will become an NFL starter again. Fittingly, he was replaced in Tampa Bay by a quarterback with 564 career touchdown passes. Winston only has to throw 444 more touchdowns to catch Drew Brees.
And only 98 interceptions to catch up to Tom Brady.
After four seasons of attempting to answer the question of “Are you a franchise quarterback or not?” with a “Yes,” Winston was nearly out of opportunities in the beginning of the 2019 season. The Buccaneers had a new head coach, Bruce Arians, and higher expectations than settling for 7-9 and “progress.” Despite throwing three interceptions in a Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, it seemed as though Winston could be turning a corner last September.
The height of that run may have come against the defending NFC Champions, when Winston threw for four touchdowns in a 55-40 win over the LA Rams. What some Bucs fans still realized, but perhaps Winston did not, was that he was much closer to the end of his career with Tampa Bay than he was to the beginning of it.
Winston threw five interceptions in Week 6 against the Carolina Panthers; four interceptions in Week 11 against the New Orleans Saints; three interceptions in Week 14 against the Indianapolis Colts; and four interceptions in Week 16 against the Houston Texans. Winston led the NFL with 30 interceptions last season and the team happily moved on despite Jameis also leading the NFL in passing yards in 2019.
Which, you know, passing yards.
There’s a lot of recognizable faces that remain with the Bucs, including Arians, who continued to reload the offense despite already having Chris Godwin and Mike Evans and O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate and Ronald Jones and a decent offensive line. There are plenty of big changes too and I’ll outline them here.
QB - Jameis Winston to Tom Brady
Winston’s interception% last season was 4.8%. Brady’s this season is 1.8%. Brady is also throwing touchdowns at a higher rate than Winston and at his own personal highest rate since 2016.
RB - Peyton Barber to Leonard Fournette
Barber was Jones’ backup last season and is now playing in Washington. Fournette was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars and picked up by the Bucs to be the new complementary back. Barber is not effective. Fournette is a bit “hot and cold” but clearly capable and definitely one of the best backups in the league at his position.
WR - No viable third option to Scott Miller and Antonio Brown
Miller was targeted only once in last season’s game and he had just 13 receptions as a rookie. Brady’s been into him as an option though and Miller has 27 catches for 414 yards and two touchdowns. Brown was added to the lineup two weeks ago and he already has 10 catches for 100 yards, clearly eating into Miller’s opportunities.
Miller has only four targets in the last two weeks, catching two passes for 14 yards.
TE - O.J. Howard to Rob Gronkowski
Howard is not off the team, but he is on injured reserve and the Bucs new starting tight end is Gronkowski. He’s caught 29 of 49 targets for 374 yards and four touchdowns. He’s seventh in receiving yards among tight ends, trailing second place George Kittle by only 100 yards. (Of course, Kittle has been injured, but the point is that there maybe hasn’t been a ton of elite tight end receiving production this season.)
C - Ryan Jensen to A.Q. Shipley
T - Demar Dotson to Tristan Wirfs
G - Ali Marpet to Ryan Jensen
Some of these moves are recent. Marpet is in concussion protocol and could miss Monday’s game, so Arians has shifted Jensen to left guard and put veteran Shipley at center. Wirfs, the Bucs’ first round pick this season, has been hailed by some as the best rookie offensive lineman in the league.
DT - Vita Vea to Rakeem Nunez-Roches
Vea, the Bucs’ top pick in 2018, is on injured reserve with a broken leg. Nunez-Roches, a sixth rounder of the Chiefs in 2015, has started the last five games.
CB - Vernon Hargreaves to Jamel Dean
Hargreaves was still a starter for Tampa last time against the Rams and now he’s in Houston. Dean has emerged as one of the NFL’s best corners this season.
FS - Mike Edwards to Antoine Winfield, Jr
Edwards remains a rotational defensive back and special teamer with the Bucs, but the team drafted Winfield 45th overall this year and he’s been a good playmaker already: 52 tackles, one interception, two sacks, one forced fumble.
The Bucs went from 28.6 points per game last season to 29.6 points per game this season (though because of how 2020 is going, they’ve dropped from third in scoring to sixth) but on defense, they’ve improved from the 29th-ranked scoring defense to the eighth-best. This, of course, is aided by not throwing 30 interceptions.