The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are encouraged by the way Jameis Winston is performing, even if the young quarterback's progress isn't reflected in the team's record.
Coach Lovie Smith reiterated Monday that the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NFL draft is making strides weekly, and that key players around the rookie are getting better, too.
The Bucs (1-2) wasted an opportunity to climb over .500 at any point in a season for the first time in nearly three years when they were shut out in the second half of a 19-9 loss at Houston.
Winston set career highs with 36 passing attempts, 17 completions and 261 yards against the Texans, numbers that would have been more impressive if not for some drive-stalling dropped passes and untimely penalties.
"Our ballclub is getting better, though. I know the record isn't showing that right now, but that's going to change," Smith said, noting that rookie left tackle Donovan Smith had his best game against Houston, and that another second-round pick, right guard Ali Marpet, is making steady improvement, too, as part of a revamped offensive line that didn't allow a sack.
J.J. Watt had three quarterback hits, but the Bucs stopped the Houston star's streak of seven consecutive games with at least one sack.
Winston did his part, making quick reads and getting the ball out of his hands quickly to avoid pressure. He threw for one touchdown and was intercepted once.
Smith said the young passer is "growing and growing" every game.
"Jameis Winston is a good football player, simple as that. He'll have some bad plays like all quarterbacks do, but his arrow is pointed up," Smith said.
"He learned something new each week, which rookies do," the Tampa Bay coach added. "Again, there's a lot of us that need to play a lot better, of course he included, but we're going to win a lot of games with him."
The Bucs have not had a winning record since Dec. 2, 2012, when they entered a loss at Denver at 6-5. They finished 7-9 before going 4-12 and 2-14 that past two years.
Several factors, including rookie Kyle Brindza missing three field goals and an extra point, contributed to Sunday's loss. The offense was 1 for 12 on third-down conversions, and the defense carried some of the responsibility, too, by allowing the Texans to rush for 186 yards — much of it with the game on the line.
Smith was disappointed with the result, but said there's no cause for alarm three games into the season. He noted the team is 1-0 within the NFC South after not winning any division games last year, and that the Bucs can improve to 2-2 if they can defeat unbeaten Carolina (3-0) at home this week.
"We're not getting ready to junk anything. Let's let things play out a little bit," the coach said. "We'll be fine on the defensive side of the ball."
Winston called Sunday's loss "promising," especially in light of the way his offensive line played against a Houston defense featuring Watt, Vince Wilfork, Brian Cushing and Jadeveon Clowney.
"I know it's ironic, but it was a very promising loss," the young quarterback said, adding that he has to do a better job on third downs to give the offense a better chance to be successful.
"We haven't had a game where I didn't get sacked yet, and we line up against the best defensive line in the NFL and we do a great job," Winston added. "I just have to help them out on those third downs. I have to come through."