Was Jameis Winston's pick-six his last pass for the Bucs?
Rick Stroud, Tampa Bay Times, published 30 December 2019

The image will be hard to erase, and frankly, one that nobody in Tampa Bay should forget. It's the last pass Jameis Winston threw in the 2019 season - maybe his last one ever for the Bucs. It was intercepted by linebacker Deion Jones and returned for a touchdown on the first play of overtime to end the Falcons' 28-22 win overthe Bucs Sunday.

What perfect imperfection. It's a snapshot of Jones raising the football above his head before being buried in an avalanche of celebrating Falcons teammates in the end zone. It's portraiture of Winston ripping off his helmet and walking off the field a loser, having thrown his 30th interception of the season, seven of them remarkably resulting in touchdowns for the wrong team.

"It smells as bad as it could possibly smell and it'll smell that way for a long time," Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. "I think an overtime loss, giving the ball away for a touchdown. I can't think of anything worse."

Except maybe this: What if Winston does it all again next year? Nobody has been a bigger defender of Winston than Arians. He was hired as the last best chance to save the turnover-prone franchise quarterback. So many times, Winston's interceptions were alibied away by Arians as a receiver running a poor route, the offensive line allowing pressure or just an extraordinary play by the defense.

Not this time. Arians struck a different tone following the loss that left the Bucs at 7-9 for their eighth losing record of the decade. He said Winston made a bad decision to attempt that pass to tight end Cameron Brate, who was never open. "It sure looked like (a bad decision)," Arians said. "He was covered. He's throwing to his favorite guy, but he's covered."

Winston saw it differently. The ball was partially tipped by Falcons' defensive end John Cominsky. "He was open," Winston said. "This is football. This is a game of inches. The ball got tipped and it went straight to him. There's been a lot of instances where I throw to Cam and it's a bang-bang play. ... The ball gets tipped, it magically ends up in someone's hands."

In this case, Winston's opinion isn't the one that matters. The Bucs have to make a decision on Winston for 2020. On the one hand, he became the eighth player in NFL history to throw for more than 5,000 yards and set a club record with 33 touchdown passes.

But Winston also had five games with three or more interceptions, losing four of them. Seven times, the Bucs' first possession of the game ended with an interception. Four times, he threw a pick on the first play of the game. His seven pick-sixes are the most in the NFL since at least 1950. "You look at it and there's so much good and so much outright terrible," Arians said. "We got to weigh that and see what happens."

Of course, Winston prefers to look at all the yards and touchdowns as his best argument for remaining with the Bucs. "I'm focused on how I can get better, because I know if I eliminate those, I'm going to be the best," Winston said. "That's bar none. You better check your sheet. I eliminate those, I'm going to be the best."

Check your sheet? Look, the Mona Lisa would just be another oil painting if someone drew a smile on it with a Sharpie. It's true that Winston, at 25, is a tremendous talent. It's just as true that he has been reckless with the football since his final year at Florida State.

Of course, Winston and the Bucs should not have been in overtime Sunday. Rookie place-kicker Matt Gay missed field goals from 49-, 44- and 34 yards, all aiming at the south goalpost. Make just one and the Bucs win. And it's fair to note that Winston has been playing with a broken thumb the past three games and he has been without Pro Bowl receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

He's actually played well enough to make a star out of Breshad Perriman, who had his third straight 100-yard receiving day Sunday. There's always a "but” with Winston. 106 yards, the first time a player went over the century rushing mark this season.

And it wasn't because the Bucs didn't play good defense. Shaquil Barrett had three sacks, finishing with 19.5 sacks to lead the NFL. Heck, even Devin White scored a touchdown on a 91-yard fumble recovery. The Falcons scored one offensive touchdown.

When Winston became the first quarterback to throw 30 interceptions and 30 touchdowns in a season, the reaction was swift and damning. ESPN's 30 for 30 TV series tweeted: Finish this sentence: What if I told you…with a picture of Winston walking off the field following the loss to the Texans.

Winston says he would like to be back with the Bucs next season. "Absolutely, but it's not my decision," Winston said. "I know I'm confident in my abilities. I know I'm a baller. I know I'm going to fix my mistakes. I know that for a fact. It's in God's hands and it's in their hands."

In a way, there is some synergy to Winston's career with the Bucs. The first pass he threw in the NFL was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by the Titans' Cody Sensabaugh. The Bucs will look at their options in free agency and the draft. But first, Arians has to ask himself this: is it fixable? "That's one of the things I‘ll have to evaluate,'' he said. But how the 2019 season ended will be burned into his brain.