The Buccaneers have been struggling to fill seats at Raymond James Stadium for several years. On Saturday night, they had no trouble filling local TV screens with eyeballs.
Via JoeBucsFan.com, the preseason opener against the Vikings had a peak rating of 16.1 in Tampa with a 26 share. This means that 16.1 percent of all local TVs, on or off, were tuned in for the game, and that 26 percent of all TVs that were turned on were tuned to the Buccaneers-Vikings game.
On average for the full contest, the rating was 12.1 with a 22 share.
Winston played the entire first half, handling eight drives. It took him a while to get going, with a game-opening three-and-out ending on a badly overthrown short pass to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (who was double covered) and a second drive featuring a bad throw behind receiver Mike Evans (who had plenty of open space in front of him) and a wobbly throw on third down that was nearly picked off.
The third time was more of a charm, when after taking a sack and then scrambling away from trouble on second down Winston found receiver Vincent Jackson deep on the right side of the field, after Jackson blew by Vikings rookie cornerback Trae Waynes. A couple of plays later, Winston rolled right and found receiver Louis Murphy for a 10-yard gain, before the drive ended with a field goal.
The next possession died quickly with an overthrown pass in the right seam cleanly picked off by Vikings safety Antone Exum Jr. Another turnover nearly followed after a shotgun snap over Winston’s head on third down.
Then it all settled down for Winston, who strung together five straight completions (the first three were high-percentage short passes) and connected three consecutive times with Murphy before scrambling for a touchdown. Sure, Winston dove head first into the end zone, conjuring memories of Johnny Manziel’s preseason recklessness in 2014. While that kind of stuff eventually will get a quarterback injured, Winston didn’t get injured on that play.
The half nearly ended with some fireworks from Winston, who uncorked a Hail Mary pass from midfield into the end zone that actually had a chance to be caught. If so, it would have been the highlight and the headline of the weekend.
The real question is whether Winston will be generating highlights and headlines four Mondays from now and beyond, when the games count.