Win­ston fo­cused on help­ing Bucs im­prove on 2-2 start

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - SPORTS - By Fred Goodall

TAMPA — While most of the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers used their bye week to get away from work and re­lax, Jameis Win­ston stayed closer to home and con­tin­ued to pre­pare for his first start in nearly 10 months.

The No. 1 over­all pick in the 2015 draft out of Flor­ida State missed the first three games of the sea­son while serv­ing a sus­pen­sion for vi­o­lat­ing the NFL’s per­sonal con­duct pol­icy.

Win­ston came off the bench for the sec­ond half of a 48-10 loss to the Chicago Bears two weeks ago. On Sun­day, he re­sumes his role as Tampa Bay’s start­ing quar­ter­back against strug- gling NFC South ri­val At­lanta.

The fourth-year pro said Thurs­day he’s both grate- ful to be back and eager to help the Bucs im­prove on a 2-2 start.

“I’m thank­ful I had the sup­port of my team­mates and the (or­ga­ni­za­tion) through­out the sus­pen­sion,” said Win­ston, who was dis­ci­plined by the league fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of an ac­cu­sa­tion that he groped a fe­male Uber driver in Ari­zona in 2016.

“I worked so hard for this op­por­tu­nity,” to have a NFL ca­reer, the quar­ter­back said. “To have it taken away briefly, it can make you re­flect on things. Ev­ery day is a bless­ing to be a Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neer and play this great game.”

Win­ston is tak­ing the reins of the NFL’s top pass- ing at­tack and No. 2-ranked of­fense over­all, thanks to a record-break­ing per­for- mance by vet­eran backup Ryan Fitzpa­trick.

Fitzpa­trick, who’s played for seven teams, be­came the first player in league his­tory to top 400 yards pass­ing in three con­sec­u­tive games.

The Bucs opened with up­sets of New Or­leans and Su­per Bowl cham­pion Phil- adel­phia, then were outscored 68-13 in the first half of losses to the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers and Bears, who led 38-3 when Fitzpa­trick was benched.

Win­ston was 16 of 20 for 145 yards, one touch­down and two in­ter­cep­tions in the sec­ond half at Chicago. Sun­day’s start will be his first since Dec. 31, when his 39-yard TD pass to Chris God­win on Tampa Bay’s fi­nal of­fen­sive play of last sea­son gave the Bucs a 31-24 up­set of the Saints.

One of the knocks on the 24-year-old has been his lack of ac­cu­racy on deep throws. How­ever, coach Dirk Koet­ter and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Todd Monken said Win­ston has made strides since re­turn­ing from the shoul­der in­jury that hin­dered him most of 2017.

“The thing on that is Jameis’ shoul­der was worse than we thought,” Koet­ter said.

GETTY IM­AGES

Back from his three-game grop­ing sus­pen­sion, Bucs QB Jameis Win­ston takes the reins of NFL’s top pass­ing at­tack.

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