The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will try to squeeze some more Fitzmagic out of a campaign quickly spiraling down the drain.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who guided the team to a 2-1 start during Jameis Winston’s suspension to start this season and sparked the Bucs to a cusp of a victory Sunday after replacing the struggling starter — Winston was intercepted four times at Cincinnati before getting the hook — will be back under center for Week 9’s divisional game at Carolina.
Coach Dirk Koetter announced the switch Monday, saying it provides his players the “best chance” to beat the Panthers. He stopped short of characterizing the move as permanent.
“I don’t like switching quarterbacks,” Koetter said, admitting Winston’s poor play and the Bucs’ league-worst turnover differential (minus-13) forced his hand. However he didn’t want to speculate on the former top pick’s future, saying next Sunday’s game in Charlotte was as “long term” as he was looking.
Fitzpatrick passed for 400 yards in each of his first three starts — the first passer to ever string together three 400-yard days in succession — and still leads the NFL with a 119.3 passer rating, aided by his 194 yards and two TDs off the bench in the near-successful comeback bid against the Bengals. Turning back to him suggests Koetter isn’t ready to give up on this team even though Tampa Bay (3-4) has lost four of five.
The decision is a telling indictment of Winston, the only Buccaneers quarterback under contract in 2019, but a man whose decision making on the field continues to suffer even after another regrettable lapse away from it — he allegedly groped an Uber driver in 2016 — led to his suspension while embarrassing the franchise that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2015.
Winston is currently tied for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions despite throwing far fewer passers than the men he shares that dubious mark with (Case Keenum and rookie Sam Darnold).
“I know I’m definitely the reason we came up short with this game, and I own that,” Winston said after the 37-34 loss to the Bengals, who kicked the game-winning field goal on the game’s final play.
The Bucs picked up Winston’s $21 million option for 2019 during the offseason. However if they determine he’s not their long-term answer, they could shut him down — as the Redskins did with Robert Griffin III in 2015 — and cut him without financial penalty before next season.
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