It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston threw four interceptions before giving way to Ryan Fitzpatrick, whose comeback fell just short in a 37-34 heartbreaking loss. The Bucs fall to 3-4 on the year and travel to Carolina to face the 5-2 Panthers next week.

2 BIG STATEMENTS

STATEMENT 1: Bucs Need To Bench Winston – For The Season
Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston threw a season-high four interceptions, including a pick-six, and was benched near the end of the third quarter of Tampa Bay’s 37-34 loss to Cincinnati.

Those are interceptions number seven, eight, nine and 10 on the year for Winston, by the way. Honestly, Winston had three more dropped picks. It could have been worse.

Winston has now thrown at least two interceptions in all four games he has played in this year. I wrote about it in Friday’s timely SR’s Fab 5 column – calling Winston a turnover machine. He certainly proved that point on Sunday with four more turnovers in Cincinnati.

Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick – Photo by: Getty Images

It’s time for the Bucs to turn the page on Winston, at least for the rest of this year. I’m not saying trade the guy. It’s way too early to consider that. That’s a thought to ponder in the offseason.

But with Tampa Bay at 3-4 right now, it’s time to bench Winston in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick and hope he can re-create enough FitzMagic to win down the stretch and put the Bucs into playoff contention. Fitzpatrick completed 11-of-15 passes for 194 yards with two touchdowns, including a 72-yarder to Mike Evans, in addition to a QB rating of 154.9 in a little over one quarter of action.

“Fantastic – hats off [to him],” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said after the game. “That’s why you have a veteran backup. He goes in after a pick-six, so he had about two minutes to warm up and played with composure and did a great job of bringing us back.”

Koetter has seen Fitzpatrick win the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award twice this year and post three straight 400-yard games to start the season, which is an NFL record – not to mention 11 touchdowns, which is nearly double the amount of scoring strikes that Winston has thrown over the same number of quarters played. He saw Fitzpatrick rally the Bucs to a 34-34 tie with less than a minute to go in Cincinnati, and probably should have inserted him as the starter at halftime before Winston threw his pick-six. After the game he said he thought about it before Winston connected on a 60-yard TD to DeSean Jackson and led the Bucs down the field for a field goal before halftime.

Keep in mind that Winston has only started three games and played in one other half and he has 10 interceptions. Winston is averaging an interception nearly every quarter he plays in, which is absolutely ridiculous.

I have seen several Buc-killer quarterbacks in my two decades of covering this team from Green Bay’s Brett Favre to Carolina’s Jake Delhomme to New Orleans’ Drew Brees.

You can add Winston to that list.

Yes, Winston has been a Buc-killer, too, as his 19-29 record as a starting quarterback suggests. In his last 16 starts, including Sunday’s against the Bengals, Winston’s record is only 4-12.

Think about this.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Getty Images

The Bucs were minus-4 in the turnover ratio on Sunday and it still took a last-second field goal for the Bengals to win. If Winston doesn’t throw a pick-six and if the Bucs were maybe minus-2 in turnovers on Sunday they win – easy.

“I can’t turn the ball over – I’ve got to fix it,” Winston said repeatedly after the game.

All this despite Tampa Bay’s offensive line playing truly horrendous football on Sunday in terms of pass protection, giving up six sacks, nine QB hits and numerous holding penalties, which didn’t help Winston’s cause. But Winston’s poor decision-making was bad enough on its own.

“It’s a simple message,” Koetter said. “We were minus-three last week and some how eeked out a win. We were minus-four today and it’s almost impossible to win. … We can’t turn it over seven times in two weeks. That’s not hard to see. That’s pretty obvious.”

I’ve given Koetter a lot of credit and praise for doing some very difficult things this season, such as handing over the play-calling duties to Todd Monken, and firing his good friend Mike Smith and replacing him at defensive coordinator with Mark Duffner. I’ve said Koetter has put ego aside and done what is necessary to win this year, which shouldn’t be a surprise as his own job is on the line.

“Today is not the day I have to decide that, right?” Koetter said after the game when asked about benching Winston in favor of Fitzpatrick. “I don’t have any problems making decisions, and I’ll make it when the time is right. But now is probably not the right time.”

Now Koetter has another difficult decision to make at the quarterback position – one that will invite controversy.

This isn’t about the future. This isn’t about trying to validate general manager Jason Licht’s first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. This isn’t about determining if Winston is worth a long-term contract extension right now.

This is about starting the quarterback gives the Bucs the best chance to win in Carolina next week and the rest of the season. Sunday’s performance – with four more interceptions – suggests that it’s not Winston.

It’s Fitzpatrick.

And technically, Fitzpatrick is Licht’s guy, too.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston and GM Jason Licht - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs QB Jameis Winston and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

No, Fitzpatrick doesn’t have a Tampa Bay first-round pick invested in him, but Licht signed him last year and re-signed him this year, so this decision shouldn’t be about ego or reputation. This should be about what is best for the Bucs in the present day – not the future.

If the Bucs don’t win in Carolina and this team falls to 3-5, there is no future for Koetter or Licht, and they won’t be the ones deciding whether or not Winston gets a contract extension or not.

I’ve given Winston the benefit of the doubt for quite some time, pointing to his talent, his penchant for playmaking and his youth and upside as his positives. I’ve wanted Winston to be the guy – the Bucs’ franchise quarterback – but his penchant for turning the ball over, which was one of his biggest knocks coming out of Florida State, is an absolute killer for this team.

And that was clearly evident on Sunday in Cincinnati.

STATEMENT 2: JPP Continues His Pro Bowl Push
Bucs defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul had two sacks in Sunday’s loss and tied a franchise record by recording a sack in six straight games. Pierre-Paul now has eight sacks on the season, which leads the team, with nine games left and almost seems assured to reach double digits, which hasn’t been done in Tampa Bay since Simeon Rice recorded 14 in 2005.

Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Getty Images

Pierre-Paul has already tied last year’s sack mark of eight, which he recorded in 16 games with the New York Giants. Pierre-Paul has had two years in which he notched double-digit sacks – 2011 when he had 16.5 sacks, and 2014 when he posted 12.5 QB captures. Pierre-Paul has been to two Pro Bowls in 2011 and ’12, and could very well be back on his way to having that distinction again.

The Pierre-Paul trade is one Licht’s finest personnel moves, and ranks up there with acquiring wide receiver DeSean Jackson and trading for Logan Mankins, who made the Pro Bowl in his second and final year with the Bucs. Licht has had his share of questionable personnel moves, but to get JPP for a third-round pick is an absolute steal.

2 PROBING QUESTIONS

QUESTION 1: Are The Bucs Going To Trade DJax?
Despite today’s loss in Cincinnati, probably not. Jackson and Winston finally connected on a deep pass, a 60-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, and the lack of connection between the two down the field was Jackson’s biggest source of contention in wanting to be traded, according to a pre-game report by NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Getty Images

As I stated in my article about the trade rumors prior to kickoff, the Bucs had no intention of trading Jackson as of Friday, as Tampa Bay likes its deep at the wide receiver position, which is the strength of the team. I still think that’s the case even after the Bucs fell to 3-4 with the loss to Cincinnati. After the game Koetter said he didn’t know about Jackson’s request for a trade.

“Frustrated? I don’t think he would be alone – I’m frustrated,” Koetter said. “I would expect he is, too. All the best play-makers I’ve been around in my career – they want the ball. So, yeah. That doesn’t surprise me. As far as requesting to be traded, I don’t know anything about that.”

Jackson finished with three catches for 68 yards on Sunday, and his 60-yard touchdown catch gave him the NFL record for total touchdowns covering 60 yards or more with 24, which surpasses Jerry Rice’s mark of 23. If Fitzpatrick continues to start at quarterback that will only make Jackson happy and want to stay in Tampa Bay, too.

QUESTION 2: How Bad Did The Bucs Miss Alexander?
Real bad. Not only did Tampa Bay’s run defense get gashed up the middle by Joe Mixon over and over again, especially on a 43-yard run in the second quarter, the Bucs defense just looked lost and lifeless after stopping Cincinnati’s first drive with a stop on fourth down.

Alexander, who made his first Pro Bowl last year, is out of the year with a torn ACL, which happened just before halftime in last week’s 26-23 win over Cleveland. He hasn’t necessarily had a Pro Bowl start to this season as he’s missed some tackles and overran some plays, but Alexander is the heart and soul of the Bucs defense.

Bengals RB Joe Mixon - Photo by: Getty Images
Bengals RB Joe Mixon – Photo by: Getty Images

There was clearly some missing energy on the field on the field on Sunday, especially in the first half when the Bengals rolled up 27 points while Mixon was rolling up 114 yards and two scores on 14 carries (8.1 avg.). Mixon finished the game with 123 yards rushing on 21 carries (5.9 avg.) as Tampa Bay’s defense stiffened in the second half, limiting Mixon to just nine yards on seven carries.

Adarius Taylor started in place of Alexander and surrendered a touchdown to Tyler Boyd across the middle in the first half, in addition to missing some run fits that allowed Mixon to pile up big yardage on the ground. Taylor finished with just three tackles in his first start at middle linebacker and had a big 5-yard delay of game penalty that moved Cincinnati’s game-winning field goal attempt up by Andy Bullock. Weakside linebacker Lavonte David led Tampa Bay with eight tackles along with safety Justin Evans.

2 BOLD PREDICTIONS

PREDICTION 1: Bucs Could Replace Catanzaro With Santos
Bucs kicker Chandler Catanzaro could very well be cut next week and replaced with Cairo Santos, who was brought in for a workout on Tuesday. Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht contemplated signing Santos last year after he was released by Kansas City, but he wasn’t completely healthy, so Pat Murray was signed instead.

Catanzaro missed an extra point on Sunday, and has missed his first extra point attempt in three straight games over the past three weeks. Catanzaro has now missed four extra points this year, in addition to two field goals, including a 40-yarder last week that could have beaten the Browns at the end of regulation. Instead, he drilled a 59-yard field goal to win it in overtime.

It’s one thing to make a mistake with personnel. It’s another thing to hang on to a mistake, as it only compounds the problem. Catanzaro made two other extra points and two field goals from 38 yards and 25 yards. I’m not sure if the Bucs view Catanzaro as a mistake yet, but if they do, Santos could be the kicker next week in Carolina.

PREDICTION 2: Stewart Could Be Benched For Harris
Early in the year I questioned whether or not Bucs rookie M.J. Stewart had enough athleticism to play cornerback – especially in the slot. Tampa Bay’s second-round pick is tough and physical, but didn’t test well athletically at the NFL Scouting Combine. Too often this season he’s immediately in the trail position, and that disturbing trend continued on Sunday in Cincinnati.

Bucs CB MJ Stewart - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs CB MJ Stewart – Photo by: Getty Images

Bengals slot receiver Tyler Boyd turned Stewart around at the line of scrimmage on a 28-yard pass down to the Bucs’ 1-yard line to set up Mixon’s first touchdown run in the first quarter. The same thing happened on a 26-yard catch-and-run by Boyd in the second quarter before he was pushed out of bounds at the Tampa Bay 8 to set up Mixon’s second touchdown run.

Mixon also dashed for a 43-yard run when Stewart had the angle but not the speed to catch the Bengals’ rusher. Stewart was injured in the second half and didn’t return. Stewart was replaced by De’Vante Harris, who played better, tighter coverage down the stretch and could be the new starter at nickel cornerback going forward.

Stewart wasn’t the only Bucs defender who didn’t play well for new defensive coordinator Mark Duffner on Sunday, though. The pass rush wasn’t good enough, the coverage wasn’t tight enough, the red zone defense wasn’t stiff enough and the run defense wasn’t stout enough to keep the Bengals offense from scoring 30 points.

 

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son