Jameis Winston is coming off the best game in his career -- a complete performance where he protected the ball, made some tough and crucial throws all over the field and looked not just like an NFL quarterback, but a very good one. His traditional statistics underscore that fact (21/29, 297 yards, two touchdowns, one sack, no turnovers), but it really doesn't matter how you evaluate him: Winston looked outstanding, and not just for a rookie QB.
By ESPN's Total QBR, Winston was the third-best quarterback in week seven. By Football Outsiders' DVOA, the fourth-best -- and the top quarterback going just by his performance as a passer. By Pro Football Focus' ratings, he was the second-best quarterback to suit up last week. By all accounts he had an outstanding day in terms of production, and easily his best of the season.
And the tape backs it up. Two weeks before against the Jaguars, he miraculously won Rookie of the Week when most of what he did consisted of not turning the ball over -- almost all of his throws were within five yards of the line of scrimmage. The ball security he displayed was an improvement, but it wasn't a particularly impressive game overall: he was a game manager. That can't be said of his performance this week, when he didn't just make the right decisions and avoid turning the ball over, but he made multiple very tough NFL-level throws.
That started with his very first throw of the day, a 40-yard bomb to Mike Evans. The ball was perfectly located, but what was most impressive was when the ball was released: well before it was obvious that Evans was open, but he was -- thanks to Winston holding the free safety in place with his eyes. See for yourself:
Part of what made Winston's performance so impressive was that he was throwing people open, despite the fact that most routes had just two downfield receivers, especially after injuries sidelined Louis Murphy and Vincent Jackson. His two must-have fourth-quarter throws to Mike Evans were things of beauty. The second was perfectly placed with a free blitzer in his face, but the first was the kind of throw that only a few NFL quarterbacks even dare attempt.
This throw came on third-and-seven with 6:40 left in the game. The Bucs need a first down to prevent Washington from getting the ball back and an opportunity to grab the lead. Yes, the Bucs would later screw up the game anyway, but at the time this was a crucial throw -- and Winston is asked to make one of the toughest possible throws out there: a deep out. That throw requires arm strength, but also very good ball placement. If that throw is too far inside, it's an easy pick and often a pick six. Too far outside and it's incomplete. The window is small, but Winston makes a perfect throw into tight coverage, and a small adjustment by Evans turns this into a beautiful play.
This game was easily Winston's best because it married his aggressiveness and his ability to make tough throws with smart decision-making and ball security. Aside from one recovered fumble on an unnecessary scramble, he made no ill-advised decisions under tough circumstances, playing with just one quality target for most of the second half. And when he had to come up with some miracle plays, that's exactly what he did.
We won't see this Winston every game, and he'll likely make more rookie mistakes and regress a little the rest of the way. But the fact that he's able to put together a complete game like this this early in his career is a great sign for the future.