TAMPA, Fla. — In his final case to earn a contract extension for next year, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston was pick-sixed by Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones on the first play of overtime, making him the first player in NFL history to throw for at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a season.
“I think an overtime loss, giving the ball away for a touchdown — I can’t think of anything worse,” said coach Bruce Arians, who watched as Jones’ teammates tackled him in the end zone to celebrate as the Falcons won 28-22 in overtime to match the Bucs’ 7-9 record.
The win propelled the Falcons to second in the NFC South behind the New Orleans Saints because they have a better division record.
“It smells as bad as it could possibly smell” Arians said of the loss. “And it’ll smell that way for a long time.”
It also ended Winston’s rookie contract in Tampa the same way it began. Winston was pick-sixed on the first pass attempt of his career in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans in 2015. Opponents have scored 112 points off of Winston’s turnovers this year — the most in the NFL.
He’s the first quarterback to throw at least 30 interceptions in a season since another Bucs quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, threw 35 in 1988, according to ESPN’s Stats and Information data.
“There’s so much good. And there’s so much outright terrible,” Arians said. “We’ve gotta weigh that. See what happens.”
When asked if he thought Winston was fixable, Arians said, “That’s one of the things I’m gonna have to evaluate.”
Arians said looking at draft and free-agent prospects would be a “huge part” of the evaluation process.
When Winston was asked how confident he was that he’d be back next season, Winston said, “I don’t know. I know I’m confident in my abilities. So I know I’m gonna ball and I’m gonna fix my mistakes — I know that for a fact. But it’s in God’s hands, and it’s in their hands.”
Before the overtime, with the exception of a second-quarter pick from Ricardo Allen, Winston delivered a near-error-free performance, throwing for 201 yards with two touchdown passes. But Jones jumped tight end Cameron Brate‘s route, returning it 27 yards for the score.
Arians called it a bad decision.
“It sure looked like it,” Arians said. “He was covered. He was going to his favorite guy, but he was covered.”
Winston said he believed Brate was open, adding that the ball was tipped.
“He was open. This is football. This is a game of inches,” Winston said. “If the ball don’t get tipped, it’s a completion. The ball gets tipped — it magically ends up in someone’s hands. That’s stuff that you can’t control.”
Winston also became just the eighth quarterback in NFL history to reach 5,000 passing yards in a season, joining Dan Marino, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matt Stafford, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes. But his seven pick-sixes this season and 24 interceptions in home games are NFL records, things that Winston is still struggling to figure out.
“I really don’t know, man. Some crazy stuff has been happening,” Winston said. “I’ve gotta get better. I’ve gotta fix it. Ya know, I threw a lot of touchdowns, too. And for a lot of yards. So I just know what I gotta fix. And I will.”
“We all know. We know what we gotta fix. … When you look at my numbers, I’m ballin’. I’ve gotta stop giving the ball to the other team.”
Turnovers have plagued Winston throughout his five-year NFL career. His 109 turnovers is more than any other player in the league since 2015 — and 23 more than the next closest player, Philip Rivers. Winston also leads the NFL with 86 interceptions since 2015. Fixing those has been a focus for him going back to his time at Florida State.
When asked whether he was worried that his turnovers might keep him from returning next year, Winston said defiantly, “That’s the last thing on my mind. I’m focused on how I can get better. Because I know if I eliminate those [turnovers], I’ma be the best. So that’s bar none. You better check your sheet. If I eliminate those, I’ma be the best.”
Arians, sounding less optimistic, said the team cannot continue giving the ball away.
“You’re not going anywhere. … You’re going home if you lead the league in giveaways,” Arians said. “You’re never going to play in the playoffs. Unless you’re playing for the Steelers in the ’70s.”