TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has thrown eight interceptions and lost two fumbles, but he doesn't want to repeat his mistakes. So this week, he kept repeating his pledge to not make mistakes.
In his weekly press conference which lasted less than nine minutes Thursday, Winston said he needs to 'protect the football,' 'take care of the football,' or not 'give the other team the ball," 11 times.
Here's just a sample:
"Everything is a mindset on the football field, but it's a choice," Winston said. "I got a lot of decision to make out there so my choice is I have to protect the football.
"I felt I've improved a lot from my first year to my second year. I just have to protect the football. That's the main thing. Just put us in better situations to win football games.
"Teams usually come with whatever game plan they have and it's typically pretty good. But like I said, it's more about me protecting the football and not teams doing things in particular."
Turnovers are killing the Bucs, who are minus-9 in giveaway/takeaway margin, next to last in the NFL.
To have any chance to beat the Carolina Panthers' on Monday Night Football in Charlotte, Winston will have to, yes, protect the football.
The Bucs and Panthers are both reeling at 1-3, making this a critical early matchup in the NFC South with both teams already two games behind the Atlanta Falcons (3-1). To make matters worse, the Panthers could be without quarterback Cam Newton, who is going through the concussion protocol.
Of course, the good news for Carolina is that backup Derek Anderson has beaten the Bucs twice in his career. Perhaps that's why Bucs coach Dirk Koetter isn't buying that the Panthers have become a bad football team.
"Carolina's a good football team," Koetter said. "You don't go from 15-1 and losing in the Super Bowl to being a bad team overnight. Every team has changes in the offseason, but you just look at the number of Pro Bowl players Carolina has on both sides of the ball and I don't think they turned into a bad team overnight."
Winston has been hit 39 times in four games this season, more than any quarterback in the NFL. Sixteen of those came in Sunday's 27-7 loss to the Denver Broncos. Winston has been sacked 10 times this season, which is tied for fifth in the league.
The amount of punishment Winston has taken is not necessarily a reflection of poor offensive line play, although the pass protection needs to improve. Instead, Winston's competitive nature, his desire to extend plays when there is not one to make, has contributed to many unnecessary wallops.
Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken arrived at his weekly news conference Thursday armed with some quarterback comparisons in an attempt to take a little pressure off Winston. He started by listing the touchdown-interception ratio of other passers in the NFC South.
"If you talk about the three quarterbacks in our division their first three years: Cam Newton, 40-29 (TDs/INT). Drew Brees, 28-31, Matt Ryan 38-25," Monken said. "That's their first two years in this league. Three pretty good quarterbacks. One is an MVP, one has been doing it for years and Matt Ryan is leading the NFL in yards (passing). Peyton Manning 52-43. Brett Favre 37-41. John Elway 25-29. It happens.
"Now am I'm completely comparing him to them? No. All I'm saying is I love that kid. Man, you talk about a competitive spirit and a will to win and compete and make it every play, man, that's who you want to build your team around. Is he there yet? No. Are we there yet? Collectively, no. But you'd rather try to reel a guy back in then try to develop some kind of will to win or competitive spirit. That's what we have in our quarterback. We need to continue to embrace that and mold that and develop that. That's coaching, that's playing, that's running the football better and him taking care of it better."
In fact, Pro Football Focus ranks the Bucs offensive line 26th in the NFL and notes it has surrendered 60 quarterback pressures. Then again, Winston's 177 passing attempts are the most in the league.
The fact that the Bucs have trailed in three of their four games has forced Winston to pass the ball as many as 56 times in a game.
If Winston can stay upright, he could have some success throwing the ball against the Panthers. Ryan passed for 500 yards on them last Sunday and the Carolina defense is reeling. Not signing cornerback Josh Norman has left a huge hole in the secondary.
"For us, it's not how we wanted to start the year," said linebacker Luke Kuechly. "I think we played well in the first few games and then last game kind of got out of control, so that's not like us and we're going to do our best to make sure that doesn't happen again.
"We've been in this situation before a couple years ago and you understand that there's two ways to go, you can go up or down and you've got to pick it. And you can't just pick it, you've got to really rely on the fact that you've got to work to get where you want to be and (head coach Ron Rivera) does a good job of talking about that, we've got a lot of older guys on our team that understand that stuff isn't just given to you and we've really got to crank down and work hard to get back on track."
SERIES HISTORY: 32nd regular season meeting. Carolina leads the series 20-11. The Panthers have won the last six meetings. The Bucs last victory over Carolina came in 2012 in Charlotte in a 27-21 overtime win at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
GAME PLAN: Winston has killed the team with turnovers. The Bucs turned the ball over three times in the first half against the Broncos on Sunday. Tampa Bay was horrible on first down, with 20 plays resulting in 1 or fewer yards. In order to protect Winston, and not expose him to too many hits, the Bucs need to run the football. But Charles Sims has been ineffective, averaging less than three yards per carry.
The Bucs will turn to running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who has averaged 5 yards per carry and played in Koetter's system in Atlanta.
Defensively, the Bucs are beat up on the defensive line. Tackle Gerald McCoy has a calf strain and may not play. End Noah Spence suffered a shoulder injury vs. the Broncos. End Robert Ayers missed the last two games with an ankle injury.
The Bucs are playing well against the run, but they've given up some explosive plays in the passing game. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith played a lot more Cover Two against the Broncos and Hargreaves replaced Alterraun Verner as the starter.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Bucs receiver Mike Evans vs. Carolina cornerback James Bradberry. The second-round pick from Samford has struggled like most rookies and will face on of the NFL's most physical receivers. The Panthers gave up more than 300 yards receiving to Falcons' Julio Jones last week. Look for lots of zone coverage.
Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin vs. Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. Benjamin has been held to three catches for 29 yards in the last two games. He is a big target that could have an edge over the 5-10 rookie in Hargreaves.