The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a decision to make now that Jameis Winston has returned from his three-game suspension.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the definition of a journeyman quarterback, and while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers current starting quarterback once had a great deal of success as the New York Jets starting signal-caller, his career losing record speaks volumes about his ceiling.
The Buccaneers soared to massive victories over the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 and Week 2, and a large part of their success was due to Fitzpatrick’s brilliance under center. Fitzpatrick shocked NFL fans by throwing for 417 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, and nearly 15 yards per pass attempt against New Orleans before defeating the Super Bowl champs in Week 2 with 400 more yards and four more touchdowns.
Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, Fitzpatrick fell back down to earth in the first half of the team’s Monday Night Football battle against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although Fitzpatrick bounced back from some major struggles early in the game to nearly spearhead a comeback, the Bucs coaching staff didn’t appear to be impressed with the veteran passer’s display.
In fact, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported earlier today that the Buccaneers considered benching Fitzpatrick for Ryan Griffin (Week 3 was the final game of Jameis Winston’s suspension) during the game. Per Rapoport, Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said during a team meeting on Wednesday that he thought about pulling Fitzpatrick from the game after “Fitzmagic’s” third interception, as Tampa Bay was losing 23-7 in the second quarter.
Fitzpatrick, however, remained in the game and turned it around, so he kept the starting job for the Buccaneers Week 4 battle against Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears.
The fact that Koetter spoke openly about benching Fitzpatrick for Griffin, who has never been anything more than a backup in the NFL, is an indication that he has little faith in Fitzpatrick. Fans should consider Fitzpatrick on a short leash, and he will have to fight the odds to impress in Week 4 against a hungry Bears defense. But with DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, and O.J. Howard by his side, Fitzpatrick isn’t exactly without help.
Winston is the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and while has hasn’t been a perfect passer for the Bucs, every indication is that the 24-year-old remains the team’s quarterback of the future. Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, is 35 and in a contract year. The Bucs can’t count on much from him beyond 2018, and based on Koetter’s thinking in Week 3, they aren’t expecting much from him on even a week-to-week basis.
It’s only a matter of time before Winston steps in as the starting quarterback, unless if Fitzpatrick can prove Koetter’s doubts wrong. The pressure is absolutely on Fitzpatrick to produce, because even one bad half filled with interceptions and inconsistency could spell the end of his time as a starter. If the Bucs were willing to entertain the thought of Griffin starting over Fitzpatrick and brought it up in a team meeting, then Koetter might not hesitate to bring the Bucs apparent franchise quarterback back into the lineup.
The truth is the Buccaneers should ride the hot hand at the quarterback position when it comes to Fitzpatrick. If he starts to falter, the Bucs cannot afford to wait, since it seems like they are still invested in Winston, for better or for worse.
Fitzpatrick has been producing huge yardage totals for the Buccaneers offense, but it seems like Koetter chalks that up to the talented pass-catchers that this offense possesses, in addition to an uneven running game that forces Tampa Bay to prioritize big passing plays. They may believe that the offense could be even better and less inconsistent with Winston at quarterback, because while Winston isn’t known for reducing turnovers, he has been less interception-prone than Fitzpatrick during his career and has even more arm talent.
The time is ticking on Fitzpatrick as the starting quarterback in Tampa Bay, but the one positive for Fitzpatrick is that he always seems to play at his best when a team puts him under pressure.