Jameis Winston's final set of downs against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night was not what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted to see, as their prized investment had an apparent limp after stumbling and taking a sack. Until then, though, Winston displayed the tools and pocket-passing ability that convinced the Buccaneers to select him with the No. 1 overall pick.
He completed eight of 13 pass attempts for 90 yards and made more good throws than bad in a game the Buccaneers won, 25-11. It was a significant step forward for the rookie quarterback from his first preseason game, against the Minnesota Vikings on Aug. 15, in which he completed just nine of 19 attempts for 131 yards and threw an interception.
The following chart, compiled from watching each of Winston's attempts in Monday's game, breaks down his rates of success when throwing to each region of the field, including tosses while under pressure and off play action:
In Winston's debut pair of preseason outings, no trait has been more apparent than his arm strength. The 6'4", 231-pound quarterback has already demonstrated on a few occasions in each game that he can ratchet up the velocity of his throws to thread passes into tight windows more than 15 yards down the field.
One such example came on Winston's second series in Monday's game. Despite a sloppy fake to running back Doug Martin on a play-action handoff, Winston was able to maintain his composure, turn to his target, set his feet and connect with wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who was sliding across the middle of the field toward the left hash, on a 16-yard strike.
An even better display of Winston's ability to throw with velocity came on his fourth and final drive against the Bengals. Transferring his weight effectively through his body as he delivered the pass, the Florida State product delivered a bullet up the seam to be caught for a 22-yard gain by wide receiver Russell Shepard after a penalty against rookie guard Ali Marpet on the previous play set up 1st-and-20.
Joe Goodberry, a former writer for CincyJungle.com, put together a Vine capturing both of those throws:
Although Winston still had five incompletions, his accuracy and decision-making were consistently better than they were in his preseason opener against Minnesota.
One of his incompletions was a well-thrown ball over the middle that zipped past the tight coverage of Bengals cornerback Leon Hall and should have been caught by tight end Tim Wright for a 3rd-and-16 conversion but was dropped.
While he needed more touch on one deep-ball attempt for wide receiver Mike Evans, as he overshot his target on a throw up the left side, another deep pass up the right side was well-thrown but simply defended by Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who stayed stride-for-stride with Evans and broke the pass up, as captured in the following Vine by Brennen Warner of CincyJungle.com:
Winston's only true bad throw of the night came on a 3rd-and-12 on Tampa Bay's third possession. With wide receiver Louis Murphy breaking open toward the sideline but Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins bringing pressure in his face up the middle, Winston skied a throw too high and too wide to give Murphy any chance at making a play.
While the throw was not an easy one given the pressure in his face, it was one that an NFL quarterback is expected to be able to make. As NFL.com's Chris Trapasso and Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar noted, the miss was indicative of Winston's problems with throwing under pressure, which are common for first-year signal-callers:
Overall, there was a lot to like about Winston's second exhibition game in a Buccaneers uniform. He put his downfield passing potential on display, all the while demonstrating his abilities to call plays at the line of scrimmage, drop back from under center and go through his progressions before throwing the ball.
Winston also ran for his second touchdown in as many weeks. On 2nd-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Winston was able to outrun Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap to the boundary then dive for the pylon to score. The NFL's official Twitter feed relayed video of the play:
As could be seen even on the rushing touchdown above, Winston had sloppy footwork at times in Monday's game. On Tampa Bay's fourth series, he paid the price for it as he stumbled at the start of his dropback, struggled to maintain his balance and ended up being sandwiched for a 10-yard sack by Atkins and defensive end Wallace Gilberry.
Winston appeared to tweak his ankle on that play as his feet became tangled up with one another. He stayed in the game for the last two plays of the drive but looked gimpy, and the Bengals brought an all-out rush on 3rd-and-22 that forced Winston, unable to evade the pressure, into an intentional-grounding penalty.
Although Winston was expected to play the entire first half of Monday's game, according to Jenna Laine of Sports Talk 1040, the Buccaneers decided to pull their starting quarterback following that series, his fourth of the night. Even so, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith insisted that Winston's ankle was fine, according to a report during the game broadcast by ESPN's Lisa Salters.
"I talked to Lovie Smith, who told me that it was his decision to take Jameis Winston out of the game," Salters said. "He said, 'I thought he did some nice things. I also thought he had done enough, so I took him out. No, he's not injured; it was my decision to take him out of the game.'"
Either way, Tampa Bay made the smart decision in calling it a night for Winston, as there was no reason to risk worsening any potential injury by keeping him in the contest—a preseason game that will ultimately be rendered meaningless, even though the Buccaneers were victorious—any longer.
The good news for the Buccaneers is that it does not sound as though they will have to worry about an injury of significance.
The bad news, exemplified by the fact that Winston came dangerously close to being injured, is that the Tampa Bay offensive line has struggled mightily to protect him in its first two preseason games. To keep Winston healthy going forward and help him play up to his tremendous potential, that unit needs to be able to keep pressure off him more effectively.
Given the choice to select any player at the top of the 2015 NFL draft, the Buccaneers put their confidence in Winston, whom they believed to be the best quarterback in the class.
Winston's impressive albeit brief showing Monday gave credence to the idea that Tampa Bay made the right decision.
Even so, the table might be set for No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota to have a better rookie season in 2015, if only because the Tennessee Titans have a better offensive line to protect him than the Buccaneers do for Winston, as Bleacher Report NFL associate editor Ian Kenyon noted on Twitter:
Through two preseason games for the rookie class' two star quarterbacks, Winston has completed 17 of 32 attempts for 221 yards, while Mariota has completed 12 of 16 attempts for 153 yards.
Both quarterbacks have thrown one interception while neither has thrown a passing touchdown, but Winston has added two rushing touchdowns. Mariota has lost a fumble but has only been sacked once; Winston has been sacked three times, not including Monday's intentional-grounding penalty.
Winston and the Buccaneers will have the opportunity to continue progressing forward in their third preseason game—typically considered to be the dress-rehearsal game of the preseason—against the Cleveland Browns on Saturday.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.