Bruce Arians says Bucs were warned not to rough the quarterback

TAMPA ― The Bucs were warned not to rough the quarterback prior to Sunday’s 36-27 loss at New Orleans that saw Saints starter Jameis Winston suffer a season-ending left knee injury on a horse-collar tackle by linebacker Devin White.

Coach Bruce Arians said he informed his team during the week that referee Clete Blakeman and his crew were known for throwing flags to protect the quarterback and said his players needed to be smarter.

The Bucs, who are the second-most penalized team in the NFL, were flagged 11 times for 99 yards, including the illegal tackle on Winston and back-to-back roughing-the-passer penalties on White and William Gholston against backup Trevor Siemian. Gholston’s penalty negated an interception in the end zone by Antoine Winfield Jr.

“We do a scouting report on who’s calling the game every week,” Arians said. “And this referee is very, very protective of the quarterback. They lead the league in roughing-the-passer penalties, and we committed obvious penalties. Any time you touch them in the head, it’s a penalty, and so it’s just players have to take the responsibility to play smarter.”

The Bucs are first in the NFL in net penalty yards ― the number of yards a team has been flagged in relation to opponents. They have 275 more yards in penalties than their foes. The next closest is the 49ers with 187 yards more than their opponents.

Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles dialed up a lot of pressure on the Saints’ quarterbacks, particularly on Siemian, who replaced Winston in the second quarter and completed 16 of 29 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown.

Siemian was pressured, as evidenced by the roughing penalties, but the Bucs only sacked him once. The Bucs had 22 blitzes Sunday without a quarterback pressure.

“We had some free guys and just didn’t get there in time,” Arians said. “And, you know, I think we went for a strip sack and let Jameis out one time and we’ve just got to do a better job of finishing, especially when we’re blitzing.

“The back end has to hold up just a little bit longer, too, don’t let those quick throws come out. So it’s a combination of the coverage, because we are getting guys free and we’re getting pressure, but we’re not finishing the job.”

Arians said he wasn’t disappointed in the officiating Sunday. White’s horse-collar tackle of Winston caused the Saints quarterback to suffer a torn anterior cruciate ligament and damaged to the medial collateral ligament. It’s a significant injury, and White said he tapped Winston on the helmet and told him he was praying for him. The two became close friends when Winston played for the Bucs.

While referees like Blakeman enforce the rules to protect the quarterback, Arians said he doesn’t believe the rules are making it too hard for the defense.

“I think you just have to play by the rules and adjust to the rules,” he said. “I think when we started lowering the strike zone, players got used to lowering the strike zone. You reach up high to bat the ball down. You can’t hit the guy in the face.

“Some referees are different. I mean, there’s three of those calls (that) two weeks ago would have been called. But this referee, you knew he was going to call it. That’s his MO, so you can’t do it. You have to just be disciplined each and every week. ... I think the game is good. What is the game without the quarterbacks?”

The Saints seem to be able to win with any quarterback under center. Winston was having a good season, having passed for 1,170 yards with 14 TDs and three interceptions.

“We felt like, man, we’ve seen the arm strength, the leadership, all those things,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We talk about all the time, ‘They’re gonna evaluate you on your record.’ And, shoot, he was 4-2. It wasn’t always perfect, but absolutely (we were getting what we hoped). Someone that had become a vital part to what we were doing.”

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