When Tony Dungy became the Indianapolis coach in 2002, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning had a 32-32 record as a starter, a 3.6 percent interception rate and two Pro Bowl invitations in his four NFL seasons.
With Bruce Arians becoming Tampa Bay coach in 2019, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has a 21-33 record as a starter, a 3.0 percent interception rate and one Pro Bowl invitation in his four NFL seasons.
In Dungy’s seven seasons in Indianapolis, Manning earned seven Pro Bowl invitations, made first-team All-Pro four times and helped the Colts to an 85-27 regular-season record, seven playoff victories and a Super Bowl win. During those seasons, Manning had an interception rate of 2.2 percent.
“I remember going to Indianapolis,” Dungy told WTSP-TV in St. Petersburg, Florida, “and Peyton Manning had four up-and-down seasons before I got there — 3-13, 13-3, 10-6, 6-10. Very explosive and great talent, but feeling like, ‘I’ve got to make all these plays to carry us, to help us win.’ Really, what we came back to, what we came down to is: We still want to be explosive, we still want to make big plays, but we want to protect the ball.
“It took Peyton a little while to learn that, but pretty soon, by my second year, he’s 31 touchdowns and eight interceptions, then it’s 49 touchdowns and nine interceptions. That’s what you’re looking for. That can be done when those great talents realize taking care of the ball is important.”
Dungy, who spent six seasons as Tampa Bay’s coach before going to the Colts, said Winston could “absolutely” experience similar growth under Arians.
“He’s a talent guy,” Dungy said, “and that’s what coach Arians will teach him and preach to him. You can still be explosive. We can still have all the big plays that we want to get. And you know what? We can still take care of the football and protect it and be a low-turnover team.”
Since the Bucs selected Winston with the first choice in the 2015 NFL Draft, Tampa Bay’s offense has finished in the top nine in the NFL in yards in four seasons, but it has never finished higher than 12th in scoring.
During his career, Winston has thrown 58 interceptions and lost 18 fumbles.
Last season, Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started seven games for Tampa Bay, combined to throw a league-leading 26 interceptions, and only the San Francisco 49ers had a worse turnover margin than the Buccaneers’ minus-18.
“You win in the NFL by minimizing your mistakes,” Dungy said. “Everybody has talent. The Bucs have enough talent to get the job done offensively and defensively. You’ve got to eliminate mistakes. That’s going to be the challenge. The difference between being 5-11 and 12-4 is a couple of mistakes a game. Learn that and understand that and hone in on that — that’s what wins.”
But if that’s Arians’ message for Winston, will the quarterback be receptive?
Why would that even be a question?
Because earlier this month, Winston was asked how he sought to bounce back from being benched during the 2018 season. The answer seemed to be: By tuning out the coach.
“I had to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Hey Jameis, what do you have to do?’” Winston said. “And that was simply, ‘Get back to playing Jameis Winston football. Be yourself. Have that swag. Don’t try to be something that a coach is trying to get you to be. You know, you got to go and be you.’”
An NFL suspension for violations of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy sidelined Winston for the first three games of the 2018 season. The Bucs changed quarterbacks at halftime of the fourth game. Winston made three starts, but he gave way to Fitzpatrick after throwing four touchdowns in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 28.
Winston watched from the sidelines in the next two games, before returning to the field and starting the final six games of the season.