CHARLOTTE – In each of Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston’s two games as a rookie against the Panthers, linebacker Thomas Davis managed to record an interception.
Each of those games resulted in a victory for Carolina.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Davis said when asked if facing Winston for the first time this season could result in more of the same. “Creating turnovers has been a huge issue for us the last few weeks. We’ve just got to get back to our old ways.”
And Winston, who didn’t play against the Panthers in the first matchup four weeks ago, is trying to escape his old ways.
Winston returned to the lineup last week after the turnover troubles for Ryan Fitzpatrick, who tossed two interceptions in a loss to the Panthers in Week 9, became too much for head coach Dirk Koetter to bear. That’s the last time Carolina recorded a takeaway.
Koetter had previously replaced Fitzpatrick with Winston back in Week 5 because of Fitzpatrick’s interceptions issues, then he went back to Fitzpatrick before the first Panthers matchup because of Winston’s miscues.
"Turnovers and the turnover margin is the number one factor in winning and losing football games in the NFL, and we go over it every single week,” said Koetter, who watched Winston and Co. thrive last week when Tampa avoided the interception bug for the first time since Week 1 in a 27-9 victory over the 49ers. “Jameis played very well last week. Played turnover-free football.”
That hasn’t often been the case in the checkered career of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He’s thrown at least one interception in 29 of his 50 career starts, going 10-11 when he doesn’t throw a pick and 9-20 when he does. When he throws more than one, the Buccaneers are 3-12.
WInston's six starts against the Panthers serve as a microcosm: He lost both games as a rookie while throwing six interceptions versus two touchdowns; won both games in 2016 throwing two touchdowns versus one interception; then lost both games in 2017 throwing two interceptions and one touchdown.
“We’re always ready to go out there and try to get turnovers. Certain teams just give up a little bit more opportunity,” rookie cornerback Donte Jackson said. “Obviously when you’re not making the most of those opportunities, it’s going to be a bit stressful, be a bit frustrating.”
That’s the rub. The Panthers’ last takeaway came when Jackson picked off Fitzpatrick in the waning minutes of Carolina’s 42-28 victory over Tampa Bay in Week 9.
“In my opinion, that’s the biggest stat in professional football. The team with the most turnovers usually wins the game,” said safety Eric Reid, echoing Koetter’s sentiment. “If we don’t get our offense extra possessions, we lessen our chance to win.”
The Panthers are 5-0 this year when they win the turnover margin, improving their record since 2013 in that scenario to a gaudy 42-2-1. They’ve lost the turnover battle each of the last three weeks and lost each game, falling to 0-4 on the season when that happens.
“We just have to keep working,” Davis said. “Jameis is a true competitor. He’s a kid who truly loves the game, who loves to go out and compete. He tries to get things in certain windows that he sees, and it just provides opportunities. Hopefully we’ll have that.”