Winston is confident Bucs can end long playoff drought

FILE - In this Aug. 17, 2017, file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston answers a question after an NFL preseason football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, in Jacksonville, Fla. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lofty expectations and aren’t afraid to talk about them. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007, but Jameis Winston and teammates feel the team is on the verge of changing that trend. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Jameis Winston isn’t content with re-energizing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The young quarterback is coming off leading the team to its first winning record in six years, however he cringes when reminded the Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007.

Winston is determined to end the drought this season.

NFC South rivals Atlanta and Carolina wound up playing in the Super Bowl after winning the past two division titles, and the third-year pro said there’s no reason why Tampa Bay can’t do the same after upgrading.

“It’s definitely about putting your team in a situation to be in the playoffs and give yourself that chance,” Winston said.

“And who knows what happens when you get in the playoffs,” he added. “You think about all the wild-card teams that barely got in that end up winning a Super Bowl.”

Receiver DeSean Jackson, who signed a three-year, $33.5 million deal in free agency, and rookie tight end O.J. Howard could help Winston get the ball in the end zone with more regularity.

End Chris Baker and safety T.J. Ward, a late pickup after being released by the Denver Broncos, are the most notable additions to a defense that overcame a slow start to help the Bucs surge to playoff contention late last season.

Winston knows he has to be better, too.

While he threw for more than 8,100 yards and 50 touchdowns over the past two seasons, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft also has 33 interceptions.

Coach Dirk Koetter, who calls his own plays, is confident the 23-year-old will continue to blossom.

“As I’ve said many times,” the coach said, “experience is the best teacher.”

Some things to know about the Buccaneers:

HELPING JAMEIS

WR Mike Evans, coming off his third 1,000-yard season and first Pro Bowl appearance, is one of the NFL’s top young receivers. Surrounding Winston with more playmakers in hopes of making the offense more successful figures to help Evans, as well as the young quarterback.

Jackson has established himself as one of the top deep threats in the league over nine seasons with Philadelphia and Washington. Howard was drafted in the first round after helping Alabama win one national title and come within seconds of claiming another. The Bucs are also excited about speedy third-round pick Chris Godwin, who provides Winston with another potential deep threat.

MARTIN’S FUTURE

RB Doug Martin will miss the first three weeks of the season while serving the remainder of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Koetter has said the two-time Pro Bowl selection is not guaranteed a starting job when he’s eligible to return. Martin was the league’s second-leading rusher two years ago. Jacquizz Rodgers will be the team’s primary ball carrier in Martin’s absence.

REJUVENATED DEFENSE

Former Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith begins his second season as defensive coordinator after deciding to not pursue opportunities to leave Tampa Bay.

That was welcome news for defensive leaders Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Brent Grimes, as well as younger players such as CB Vernon Hargreaves III and pass rusher Noah Spence, who figure to benefit from the continuity.

NO WORRIES

The Bucs had difficulty getting the ball in the end zone while losing three of four preseason games. Winston and the rest of the first-team offense worked 14 possessions, producing one touchdown rushing and five field goals.

“Who remembers how many touchdown passes quarterbacks throw in the preseason?” Evans asked. “Nobody really cares.”

RELIABLE INSURANCE

Winston started all 32 games over the past two seasons, leaving little work for backup Mike Glennon. When Glennon left for Chicago in free agency, Koetter brought in veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has 116 starts, as insurance.

“He’s a fiery competitor. I think he’s the type of guy that players want to play for when he’s in the game,” Koetter said. “With that said, I hope he’s not in the game.”

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