TAMPA, Fla. - Jameis Winston was making small talk Sunday before he went to the podium after Tampa Bay's 10-6 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
The Buccaneers will visit the Eagles on Sunday. Winston says he has never been to the City of Brotherly Love, but he has a football connection, sort of.
"I grew up an Eagles fan," the rookie quarterback said.
Was Winston just playing to the local writer? Apparently not. He has been quoted as saying that before.
Winston explained that he was a big Randall Cunningham fan. Cunningham was the Eagles' quarterback for 11 seasons before moving on to the Minnesota Vikings.
Since Cunningham retired in 2001, when Winston was 7, so the quarterback's following of the ex-Eagle has come from extensive video review. "I just love the way he played," Winston said.
When it was suggested that Winston and Cunningham had similar styles, he replied, "That is a high compliment."
His statistics have not been imposing during this rookie season, but Winston's impact on the improving Bucs is undeniable.
His passer rating is just 80.1. That's even lower than the Eagles' Sam Bradford (82.4). Yet Winston is viewed as a cornerstone player whose popularity in Tampa and with his teammates is much higher than his passer rating. Bradford, who suffered a concussion and a shoulder injury Sunday, still has an unknown future with the Eagles.
Winston has helped the Bucs double their win total from last season's 2-14 disaster. Like the Eagles, Tampa Bay is 4-5.
"Jameis is a winner," Bucs running back Doug Martin said. "He is very passionate about winning and this is contagious and has trickled down to everybody else."
In his two seasons at Florida State, the Seminoles went 27-1. FSU won the national championship in his redshirt freshman year when Winston claimed the Heisman Trophy. Last year, FSU earned a berth in the first Football Bowl Subdivision playoff, suffering a 59-20 semifinal loss to Oregon.
Winston had many well-documented off-the-field missteps in his two college seasons and that gave some teams pause as to whether he could handle the life of an NFL quarterback.
In 2012, he was accused of sexual assault, but he was not legally charged in the matter nor found to be in violation of the Florida State code of conduct.
Accuser Erica Kinsman is suing Winston for sexual battery. She filed a civil lawsuit against Winston, who later filed a countersuit. A jury trial will take place in the spring of 2017.
There were other incidents as well. Winston was suspended one game for shouting an obscenity at the FSU student Union. He also was given a civil citation for shoplifting $32.72 worth of crab legs from a grocery store.
No such incidents have been reported regarding Winston as an NFL player. To this point, his businesslike attitude has played well in the Bucs locker room.
"He is just a winner and winning is in his blood and his game" defensive lineman Gerald McCoy said. ". . . To see your quarterback giving it everything he has, motivates you to give a little more."
Winston has completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 2,159 yards, with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also has a team-high four rushing touchdowns after his 1-yard scoring run on a naked bootleg provided the winning margin against Dallas with 54 seconds left.
"He is a young guy who comes in always ready to play and that is what I love about him," Bucs tight end Brandon Myers said.
He threw two interceptions against Dallas, but in the previous four games, the 6-foot-4, 231-pound Winston didn't throw a pick. It's all part of the growing process.
"Early in the season I started off with a lot of turnovers," Winston said. "I hurt the team real bad; we were in some situations to win a couple games. . . . My turnovers lost us those games."
Winston said he has embraced the accountability that goes with being a quarterback in the NFL.
"I just want to get better every single week," he said. "I know that we have a great team and that I have to play well for us to win."