Winston focused on helping Bucs improve on 2-2 start
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.
Back from his three-game groping suspension, Bucs QB Jameis Winston takes the reins of NFL’s top passing attack.