All hail, Todd Monken, right?
In Monken’s first game as an NFL play-caller the Buccaneers offense just racked up 529 yards and 41 of the team’s 48 points in an upset win in Week 1 at New Orleans.
The team’s quarterback, 35-year old Ryan Fitzpatrick, completed 75 percent of his passes for a career-high 417 yards and four touchdowns, and added another score on the ground.
But before heaping lavish praise on Monken or Fitzpatrick for Tampa Bay’s 1-0 start to the 2018, start with head coach Dirk Koetter.
All hail, Dirk Koetter – at least for Week 1.
Koetter’s the head coach, and now he’s 3-0 in season openers – the first Bucs coach to accomplish such a feat, just an FYI.
In his first two years leading Tampa Bay, the Bucs went 9-6 in 2016 and 5-11 last year. Let’s see if the third time is a charm for this team making the playoffs. Starting off 1-0 is usually much better than starting the season 0-1, and Koetter deserves a lot of credit for the upset win in New Orleans.
It was Koetter’s call to cede play-calling duties to Monken, his good friend, during the preseason. And it was Koetter’s call to want Bucs general manager Jason Licht to re-sign the Fitzpatrick, the bearded veteran quarterback, to run his offense.
Every NFL head coach has an ego, including Koetter. It’s an ego profession.
Even the mild-mannered former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy had an ego.
So for Koetter to put his ego aside as a play-caller and let Monken continue in that role, while he focused on improving his game day management says a lot about Koetter himself.
When asked about it after the game, the prideful Koetter got salty and snippy with his response to the media – refusing to openly acknowledge Monken’s role as the team’s play-caller.
You can tell that this was not an easy decision for him, and we’ll forgive his frostiness this time around given how well his team played.
In a perfect world, Koetter himself is calling the plays from his playbook and helping the offense eclipse 500 yards and putting up 41 points. Instead, Koetter needs to embrace the idea of inserting Monken in as the play-caller and be proud of that fact – not defensive about it.
Koetter gets credit for a lot of what went right on Sunday for Tampa Bay. He gets credit for trusting Peyton Barber dating back to last year, and for starting him this season at running back. He gets credit for making two tight ends a priority in his offense and making O.J. Howard and Cam Brate co-exist together in his offense. He gets credit for wisely using H-back/fullback Alan Cross as a lead blocker in the running game.
Koetter gets credit for making Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin all work in Tampa Bay’s diverse playbook. Koetter, along with Monken and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian, gets credit for getting Fitzpatrick ready for his big, season-opening start in New Orleans.
Without the pressure of play-calling duties, Koetter is now able to watch the game in the moment – and not always being a play ahead in his mind all the time. He’s more relaxed, in-tune and in control on the sidelines. The Bucs didn’t have any clock management issues or ill-advised timeouts on Sunday in New Orleans as a result.
Like most NFL head coaches, Koetter can be stubborn, but he wasn’t too stubborn to answer his critics – namely yours truly – about last year’s pillow-soft training camp. This year’s training camp was a page taken out of the Jacksonville’s playbook from last summer when the Jaguars had a physical camp and finished each practice with wind sprints to build camaraderie, mental toughness and conditioning en route to winning the AFC South division and coming within a game from making the Super Bowl.
This year’s camp at One Buc Place was one of the more physical training camps I’ve covered in my two decades on the Bucs beat, and the litany of injuries the team sustained in practice proved it.
But certainly don’t credit me.
He didn’t need PewterReport.com telling him his Hard Knocks camp was actually “Soft Knocks” last year. After seeing how his Bucs were pushed around in the trenches on both sides of the ball last year, Koetter figured that out on his own and made the right adjustments.
Aside from preparing for the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday, Koetter’s next big, macro-level task will be figuring out what to do at the quarterback position and making the right call in a few weeks if Fitzpatrick continues to perform well. When does Jameis Winston return as the team’s starter – in Week 4, on a short week after Monday Night Football against Pittsburgh, and before a road game at Chicago or after the bye week?
Or does Koetter wait until Fitzpatrick falters before inserting Winston to avoid a QB controversy? Or is Fitzpatrick going to have one last magical season in his hat that will keep Winston on the bench?
Ultimately, who starts at quarterback is up to Koetter, and I’ll trust him to make the right call because he’s made all the right moves thus far in leading his Buccaneers to a 1-0 start in 2018.