It might be a bye week for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but that doesn’t mean the team is inactive. Head coach Dirk Koetter settled his quarterback controversy by naming Jameis Winston his starter for when the team faces the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 14.
Winston is replacing Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had been the Bucs’ backup last year, but was pressed into service when the 24-year-old was suspended by the NFL for the first three games after violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
This was Koetter’s plan from the outset. He told reporters that Fitzpatrick would start the first four games and return to the back up role unless he was playing “lights out.”
“In no way is this on Fitz that we lost like we did yesterday,” Koetter said on Monday, a day after the team lost to Chicago, 48-10. “Fitz didn’t play as well as he’s been playing, but this was a 100 percent team deal.”
Illegal Use of Hands
Winston apologized to his teammates when he came back into the locker room after sitting out the first three games. Winston was found to have inappropriately touched a female Uber driver in March 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
When the suspension was announced by the NFL on June 29, Winston quickly declined to appeal and immediately put out a statement.
“First and foremost, I would like to say I’m sorry to the Uber driver for the position I put you in. It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize,” Winston said in a statement. “I apologize to my teammates, the Buccaneers organization and fans for letting them down and for not being able to be out there for the first three games of the season.”
Fitzpatrick had the dubious honor of facing three playoff teams, including the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. The 35-year-old performed admirably in two of those games. In the season opener at New Orleans, he threw four touchdowns, and guided the team to a 48-40 victory despite being a 10-point underdog.
In the next game against the Eagles, Fitzpatrick again had four touchdown passes as the Buccaneers won, 27-21. Suddenly the nickname “Fitzmagic” was starting to come to life and the team was at an improbably 2-0 mark.
He stumbled a bit in the third game against the Steelers. He had three scores, but also threw three interceptions, and they lost, 30-27. Last week he was ineffective against Chicago, and Koetter made the decision to bench him.
Koetter told Winston at halftime that he would be replacing Fitzpatrick.
“He (Koetter) said, ‘Hey, my gut feeling is to go with you,’” Winston said post-game. “‘Go out there and don’t take too many hits. Give the ball a chance.’”
Winston completed a pass for the team’s only touchdown. On Monday the decision was made to give the team back to the fourth-year player.
“It felt great just to be back out there with my teammates,” Winston said. “It was different then going against virtually nobody.”
Fitzpatrick was gracious with the personnel decision.
“What I said to my dad after how Week 1 went, and Week 2 and Week 3, was basically ‘I’m either gonna win the NFL MVP this year or I’ll be back at the bench at some point.’ That’s just the reality of the situation,” Fitzpatrick said. “I wish I could still be out there but that’s the way that it goes and I’ll accept my role.”