Playing behind a makeshift offensive line down two starters on the right side, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston threw five interceptions and lost one of two fumbles against the Carolina Panthers, digging the Bucs into a hole they couldn’t climb out of in a 37-26 loss in London. The Panthers sacked Winston seven times and scored 17 points off of Winston’s turnovers.
Now at 2-4 on the season and in third place in the NFC South, the Bucs enter the bye week needing to hit the reset button to avoid another lost season under new head coach Bruce Arians.
QB breakdown: Despite throwing for 400 yards, Winston was once again outplayed by a backup quarterback. His first pick came on the very first snap of the game on a pass intended for wide receiver Mike Evans on a curl route. The second came as Bruce Irvin hit Winston’s elbow on a short pass intended for tight end O.J. Howard and the third came on a fire-zone blitz from the Panthers, with Luke Kuechly rolling to the left side of the field as Eric Reid came off the edge.
Winston now has five games with at least four turnovers since entering the NFL in 2015. No one else has more than two over that span, according to ESPN Statistics & Information data. Winston wasn’t the only one turning the ball over, though. Wide receiver/punt returner Bobo Wilson muffed a punt in the third quarter that the Panthers recovered at the Tampa Bay 16 that set up a 29-yard field goal.
Biggest hole in the game plan: Arians’ message to his team this week was “if we truly have leadership, we don’t lose two in a row.” The Bucs would have had a better chance if they had more depth on the offensive line, if Winston weren’t fighting for his life, if the secondary weren't giving the Panthers receivers so much cushion and if they had a bona fide third receiver behind Evans and Chris Godwin, as Wilson struggled in that role this week, just as Scotty Miller did last week.
Offensive line depth has been an issue going back to last spring. So has the secondary, yet Arians proclaimed just before training camp that he felt the secondary “was fixed.” Without a consistent pass rush, the back end was exposed, just as it was in Week 5 in a loss to the Saints. And with Winston continuing to drop back for long-developing pass plays, averaging 11.1 air yards per attempt (his third-highest of the season), it was a recipe for disaster.
Bright spot: Godwin's not sneaking up on anyone anymore, yet he's still finding success -- finishing with 151 receiving yards -- his fourth 100-yard receiving day in the past five games. Evans rebounded from last week's zero-catch performance with 96 receiving yards. None of this matters, though, if they can't sustain drives and keep turning the ball over.
Looking ahead: The Bucs need to bounce back quickly with road games in Tennessee and Seattle coming up after the bye. Since 1990, just 4.5% of teams that were below .500 midway through the season have reached the playoffs -- 16 teams total, including the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts last year, according to ESPN Stats & Info research. None of those teams was worse than 3-5 at the halfway point.