The Buccaneers began Sunday hoping for another generous sprinkling of “FitzMagic” in a game at Chicago. By the late afternoon, Ryan Fitzpatrick had been benched in favor of Jameis Winston, and Tampa Bay’s head coach said after a lopsided loss that he should be fired.
"We should fire every person that was on that field today, starting with me. That was horrific.”
Koetter added that Winston “probably” showed enough in his relief effort Sunday to earn the start in Tampa Bay’s next game, a visit to Atlanta following a Week 5 bye. In that sense, the upcoming week off might be well-timed for the organization, as it evaluates its quarterback position — and possibly the job security of its head coach, or perhaps defensive coordinator Mike Smith.
Koetter also said that the Bucs did not lose because of Fitzpatrick, and there certainly was blame to go around. On the other hand, the veteran quarterback may have seen his bid to unseat Winston go up in flames, as he completed just 9 of 18 passes for 126 yards, one interception and no touchdowns.
That followed a three-interception first half in Tampa Bay’s previous game that had Koetter reportedly mulling the possibility, with Winston still suspended at the time, of replacing Fitzpatrick with third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin. While Fitzpatrick rebounded in the second half of that contest to nearly lead a comeback, he wasn’t given the same opportunity in Chicago.
Instead, Winston was under center Sunday to start the second half — and he quickly threw an interception. He was picked off again at the end of the game, but it was a relatively meaningless play at that point, and he ended up completing 16 of 20 passes for 145 yards and Tampa Bay’s only touchdown.
“We put Jameis in a terrible situation today,” Koetter said of inserting Winston into a game his team was losing by 35 points at the time. It is Fitzpatrick, though, who may be in the position of carrying a clipboard the next time the Bucs play, despite leading the NFL in passing yardage through the first three weeks of the season.
With Winston sidelined after the league investigated allegations that he groped a female Uber driver in 2016, Fitzpatrick began the season on a tear, leading high-scoring upsets of the Saints and Eagles in Weeks 1 and 2 and setting a league record with three straight games of at least 400 passing yards. However, in keeping with the up-and-down nature of his career, he showed signs of imploding last week in a home loss to the Steelers, and his benching Sunday suggests that the Bucs are set to turn back to a player they drafted No. 1 overall in 2015.
This year, Tampa Bay is No. 1 in a category of dubious distinction: most points allowed (139) through four games, which both leads the NFL, pending results from the Sunday and Monday night games, and is the most in franchise history (per the Athletic’s Greg Aumann). Koetter’s area of expertise is on the offensive side of the ball, so the buck may stop with Smith rather than with the head coach.
Adding to the embarrassment Sunday was that previously struggling Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky lit up the Bucs for six touchdown passes, five in a dominant first half. Still, Tampa Bay is 2-2, so neither coach’s job is likely in any immediate jeopardy. The starting quarterback gig, though, is another story.
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