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Breaking Down Jameis Winston's NFL Preseason Debut

Published by Bleacher Report on Sun, 16 Aug 2015

On Saturday night, the NFL's focus was on Minnesota, where rookie quarterback (and No. 1 overall pick) Jameis Winston was set to see the first game action of his career when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took on the Minnesota Vikings.All in all, it was a performance that hammered home something that may have been lost a bit in all the hullabaloo surrounding the former Heisman Trophy winner.For all his talents, Winston is a rookieand this ain't college.Much like Marcus Mariota's debut the night before, Winston got off to a rocky start.Actually, "rocky" is being kind. After four straight Doug Martin runs, Winston's first NFL pass attempt was badly off target. The second followed suit. As Jeff Darlington of NFL Media pointed out, so did the third:Then, on Tampa's next series, Winston was hammered for a nine-yard loss by Vikings end Everson Griffen. By that point, Michael Fabiano of NFL.com was watching Winston through his fingers:However, the sun poked out from behind the clouds at that point, as Winston found wide receiver Vincent Jackson for a big gain on a very nicely thrown deep ball:The Buccaneers stalled at that point and had to settle for a field goal, but for a moment it appeared Winston has settled down.Or maybe not.On the Buccaneers' next series, Winston committed two cardinal quarterbacking sins on the same play. First, he stared down wide receiver Mike Evans. Then Winston air-mailed his throw. The result' An easy interception for Antone Exum that led to a Vikings touchdown:For most of the first half (Winston played all of iteight series in total), it just wasn't very pretty. There were a pair of sacks. A pair of bobbled shotgun snaps that led to losses. A number of off-target throws. Winston rarely progressed past his first or second read, stared down his target far too often and threw nearly exclusively to either the right side or center of the field.By partway through the second quarter, the snark machine in the Twitterverse was ramping up:However, late in the second quarter Winston provided the Buccaneers with a glimpse of what the future could be. Granted, it was against the second-string Minnesota defense, but Winston guided the Buccaneers on an nine-play, 76-yard drive that culminated in his first NFL touchdownan eight-yard scramble:However, while Winston certainly didn't rate a standing ovation for his 9-of-19 performance, as Tom Jones of the Tampa Bay Times reported, much of the Chicken Little-ing some were doing was borne as much of unrealistic expectations as Winston's performance itself:His final passing stats9-of-19 for 131 yards, no touchdowns and one interceptionwere somewhat respectable, though slightly misleading. He was more bad than good, and his 48.4 quarterback rating won't win you many games in the NFL.But give the kid a break. It was his first game, and it could have been a lot worse. Winston went from bad to better. He looked crummy at times, good at others. Overall, it was a mixed bag.And honestly, what else should we have expected' Rookie quarterbacks are supposed to look lost. They're supposed to look out of sorts. That's exactly how Winston looked for much of Saturday night's preseason opener against the Vikings.Head coach Lovie Smith may have put it best after the game. "You have to have a first game," Smith said. "You have to work through some of those things, and that's what he's doing."It also might have helped if Winston had, well,help. The offensive line was awful, leaving Winston under constant pressure with no run game to lean on.And even the interception had a silver lining. Many of Winston's turnovers at Florida State a year ago (and there were a lot) were the result of hubrisforcing passes into tight windows, the square peg and the round hole. Winston simply overthrew Evans,which can often be the result of jitters.Like, say, the jitters a young quarterback seeing his first game action might feel.This isn't to say that Winston deserves a pass for a very uneven NFL debut. His accuracy has to improve, and so does his vision. And at the helm of a team that won all of two games last year, it doesn't matter why it happenedWinston simply cannot commit silly turnovers.With that said though, there were flashes: of mobility, of nice touch on long throws, of the talent that drove the Buccaneers to draft Winston in the first place.So while Winston may not deserve a pass, it is worth keeping in mind that it was one half of a preseason gameWinston's first preseason game. Ever.So the kid does at least deserve some slack.Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter at @IDPSharks.
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