- Associated Press - Sunday, December 10, 2017

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Jameis Winston grew more animated with each question, insisting his relationship with Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter is fine and that speculation about a possible rift is a by-product of the team not performing up to expectations.

“Listen, me and coach Koetter have a great relationship, first and foremost,” the third-year quarterback said Sunday, when the Buccaneers (7-9) lost 24-21 to the Detroit Lions and were officially eliminated from playoff contention.

The loss was the eighth in 10 games for Tampa Bay, ensuring a losing record after entering the season with heightened expectations based on going 9-7 a year ago.

Winston missed three games and a big chunk of a fourth with a shoulder sprain. He also started four games - all losses - while trying to play through the injury.

“We have the same goal when we go out there on the football field, and that’s to win the football game. So it doesn’t matter what anybody else can possibly say,” Winston said.

“Obviously, a lot of stuff can come out when we’re not doing as expected. But that’s false,” the 23-year-old quarterback added. “Coach Koetter coaches his tail off. He definitely supports me. So whatever anybody else has to say outside of that … that’s water under a bridge. That’s shocking.”

Winston completed 26 of 38 passes for 285 yards and a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Lions (7-6), who escaped with a win on Matt Prater’s 46-yard field goal with 20 seconds remaining.

The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007. Lovie Smith was fired as coach after Winston’s rookie season in 2015, and ownership replaced him with Koetter, in part because of the relationship he had forged with the quarterback as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator.

“A lot of distractions come up when we don’t perform like we need to perform,” Winston said. “First and foremost, I’m a strong believer in coaches coach and players play. If you look at today’s game, I didn’t play (well). I had three turnovers.”

Koetter also denied there is tension between coach and quarterback.

“That’s obviously news to me. I think Jameis and I have an extremely consistent relationship for the last three years. I don’t think anything’s different about it, but that’s just my opinion,” Koetter said.

The coach also shrugged off a question about whether he’s concerned by talk that Winston is unhappy.

“It concerns me that we’re not winning enough games. That’s my biggest concern,” Koetter said. “I know the truth about our relationship. My big concern is our football team.”


For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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