I reviewed Winston’s progress over the first 10 games of the season, and it is apparent not only that the rookie passer has the goods to grow into a franchise quarterback, but that he is the charismatic leader Tampa Bay needs to become a perennial playoff contender. Winston has helped the Buccaneers win four of their past six games, exhibiting better poise, patience and efficiency from the pocket. The rookie has completed 60.7 percent of his passes and amassed a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9:2 during that span. Most importantly, he has avoided the big mistake and shown better ball security in recent weeks.
From a scouting perspective, Winston is a classic pocket passer with terrific timing and anticipation. He possesses exceptional arm strength, exhibiting tremendous zip and velocity on pinpoint throws between the numbers. The All-22 Coaches Film from the Buccaneers’ Week 11 win over the Philadelphia Eagles includes several examples of Winston’s superb anticipation and timing.
“After careful consideration, we informed Lovie that we have decided to make a change. I want to thank Lovie for his hard work and dedication to the Buccaneers during his time here. This decision was difficult on a variety of levels. I am disappointed that we were not more successful these past few seasons, but we are committed to doing what is necessary to give our fans the winning team they deserve. As we move forward, general manager Jason Licht will oversee the process for finding our next head coach.”
Just a month ago, Buccaneers fans considered Smith a dark horse candidate for NFL Coach of the Year honors. Buoyed by new face of the franchise Jameis Winston, Smith had his team in the thick of the NFC wild card race at 6-6.
Licht was a guest last week on my SiriusXM Radio show, “Schein on Sports,” and any Bucs fan who listened to our conversation had to come away with a ton of confidence in the general manager’s general savvy. Licht explained, with dazzling clarity, how the team decided to trade down from No. 9 to No. 11. He had gathered strong intel that the Giants wouldn’t pick Tampa’s target, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. This info was indeed accurate, and Licht got his man.
“First of all, [Hargreaves] jumped off the screen for myself and cheap jerseys and all of our scouts and our coaches, in terms of being just a great athlete,” Licht told me. “He is a ballhawk. He is tough, he is sturdy, and he is great in the run game, as well. It’s not like he’s an undersized guy who can just cover [but] gets beat up down the field versus size. This guy has an ego — which I keep mentioning over and over, and I mean that in a good way. He’s not afraid. He is very competitive. He feels he can match up with just about anybody in the league.”
“We’re excited to add a player of Daryl’s caliber to our defense,” general manager Jason Licht said. “He’s a smart, consistent linebacker who has performed at a very high level throughout his career. Daryl’s combination of leadership and experience will serve us well.”
Smith, 34, has started 172-of-174 regular season games in his career. He ranks fourth among active players in total tackles and is one of only four active players to record at least 30 sacks and 10 interceptions (Karlos Dansby, Julius Peppers, Lawrence Timmons).
With the win Dallas kept its distance from the sneaky Giants, who moved to 10-4 with their win over Detroit, in the NFC East. The Cowboys can clinch the division, a first-round bye and home-field advantage with a win over the Lions on Monday Night Football next week. The Bucs, on the other hand, are in murkier territory. The loss knocks Tampa Bay out of the immediate playoff picture with the Redskins (7-5-1), still to play Monday, taking their spot in the sixth seed. The Bucs finish with two NFC South opponents: New Orleans, whom they beat in Week 14, and Carolina at home.
When Winston wasn’t winging it and keeping plays alive with his unworldly pocket presence and footwork, he was facing a world of hurt at the hands of David Irving. With DeMarcus Lawrence sitting this one out, Irving, an undrafted second-year end, filled in more than admirably, deflecting one of Winston’s passes, sacking him twice and hitting him five times. Along with linebacker Justin Durant, who was Dallas’ standout pass rusher on the night, and the inimitable Sean Lee, Irving led a Dallas front seven that unnerved Winston at key points in the second half and kept him from leading a comeback.