Jameis Winston's On-Field Demeanor More Concerning Than Play in Rose Bowl

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2015

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston walks off the field after their loss to Oregon during the Rose Bowl NCAA college football playoff semifinal, Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The play will be etched on Jameis Winston's football tombstone. Left with nowhere to go in the pocket and Oregon defenders barreling toward him, Winston somehow slithered his way past two defenders and rolled right, where he cocked back to throw a pass before a third defender could bring him down.

One problem: He didn't have the ball. Winston fumbled it as he was attempting the throw and flailed to the ground, where he had a field-level view of Tony Washington returning the ball for an Oregon touchdown. At 45-20, the game was for all intents and purposes over. The Ducks clinched their championship berth on the next possession with an interception. 

Some will look at the fumble as karmic retribution. Others will use the Vine to troll the living hell out of #FSUTwitter and be all the happier for it. Others will do the dumb thing and use that as evidence blaming Jameis Winston for Florida State's elimination.

Another problem: It's not. At all.

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For large stretches of Thursday evening, in fact, Winston was fantastic. Whenever scouts begin to doubt Winston for character concerns, all they'll have to do is throw on first-half tape and be totally convinced of risking their jobs to draft him. 

Accurate passes across his body, darts thrown in the middle of traffic and perfectly placed sideline throws were the norm. Winston was every bit as good as he was in the Georgia Tech game, where at times he single-handedly propped up his Seminole teammates.

The difference here in this scenario is that Winston's teammates didn't turn in performances worth saving.

Dalvin Cook went from supplanting Karlos Williams to the sidelines after two critical fumbles. Receivers dropped passes on high-priority downs. Receivers dropped a number of catchable balls, including Winston's interception, which bounced off the hands of a Florida State receiver and into the waiting arms of Erick Dargan. Even Winston's fumble came after a Johnny Manziel-esque evasion of pressure.

While Florida State's been defined by overcoming the odds, the margin for error in Pasadena was nonexistent. Not with Marcus Mariota doing his best Vince Young impression. Not with Thomas Tyner burning people on the edges. Not with the Seminole secondary looking as if it was doing a real-life "Breaking Madden" experiment.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Some of this was poor coaching, others a lack of execution. And some was just plain bad luck. Every time Florida State made a mistake, Oregon was there to capitalize. It was as if all the good luck Florida State had accrued over the season turned into a hard, painful regression all at once. That Winston's fumble will catch an enormous amount of the blame here is inevitable, but it's not exactly fair.

The lasting Winston image for me was not the turnover but what came afterward. When the loud, fiery leadership that teammates so often tout became the exceedingly loud, exceedingly petulant noise. Winston barked at receivers, yelled at referees and pranced up and down the sidelines yelling as if he were a hamster kept in his cage too long.

Anyone who has watched Tom Brady play football knows this is not atypical for a quarterback. Teammates and coaches spent the last week offering quotes to reporters like this from co-offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, per The Oregonian's Andrew Greif:

He gets the guys to believe in him by getting it done. It doesn't matter how much leadership you have, presence you have, charisma you have, if you don't go out on the field and win, then people aren't going to follow you. He loves to play and compete. It doesn't matter if it's football or H-O-R-S-E or throwing rocks at a street sign, whatever, throwing footballs at a garbage can, he just loves to compete and play.

The difference Thursday was in the reaction. As Winston barked, his teammates folded. Receivers tossed their arms in the air in disgust after drops. Blank stares forward were the norm, as if everyone but Winston knew the game was slipping away.

Yet Winston didn't sense the moment. His mouth kept running at the rate Oregon was putting up points. It got to the point where head coach Jimbo Fisher had to tell Winston to shut up—in those words and a few choice others—or risk being benched.

That is not the expression of a man telling someone to shut up for the first time. It's the expression of someone who's had that conversation many times and is exasperated by it. 

Again, these aren't fatal flaws. Anyone who's played sports long enough has had a coach curse at him or her. It's the nature of the competitive beast. What's concerning is that Winston hasn't yet turned those instances into teachable moments to become a better leader.

The moments where Brady explodes (and I know it's unfair to compare Winston to Tom Brady) are effective because he's learned how to balance his competitive nature against the demands of the moment.

Long has the cliche been you can tell who people are when they're at their worst. On Thursday, Florida State was most certainly that. That Winston reacted the way he did and his coaches and teammates reacted the way they did, then, is far more concerning than any fumble destined for dumb Internet memes.

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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