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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. Bucs Can Win With Fitzmagic

Jameis Winston will be suspended for three games, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The 2018 season is already over, right?

I mean, in a league that only features 16 regular season games, losing Winston for three games is the death knell, right?

Not so fast.

Don’t automatically pencil in an 0-3 start for the Buccaneers.

Not these Buccaneers.

(Oh my heavens, I’m sounding as optimistic as Gerald McCoy! How in the hell did that happen? Aren’t I the guy that has been suggesting this offseason that we not give Tampa Bay the benefit of the doubt after yet another underwhelming season – that this team should prove that it can be good before we buy into any more hype?)

Now, I’m not necessarily projecting a 3-0 start for the Bucs – with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm of Dirk Koetter’s offense – nor am I suggesting that the Bucs will make the playoffs this year.

Starting the 2018 campaign 3-0 would be some real Fitzmagic.

But a 1-2 or even 2-1 start to the season isn’t out of the question – especially with the additions Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht made this offseason.

The last time I checked, McCoy is expected to show up in New Orleans on September 9.

Mike Evans is planning on being in the Big Easy, too.

Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David are also going to be in New Orleans for the season opener.

Cam Brate and O.J. Howard will be there to play the Saints as well.

And thankfully, Ryan Jensen, Ronald Jones, Beau Allen, Jason-Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Vita Vea, Mitch Unrein, Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart and all the Bucs’ talented newcomers are going to make the trip to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Week 1, too.

Simply put, the Bucs will circle the wagons around Fitzpatrick, and are much better equipped to handle life without Winston for three games right now than they were a year ago when the team’s starting QB suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss a trio of contests from Week 9-11 and parts of games at Arizona (Week 6) and New Orleans (Week 9), too.

I’m not putting a lot of stock into the fact that Fitzpatrick was 2-1 as a starter last year as it relates to this situation this year, other than to say that Fitz has proven he can get the ball to Evans, Brate, Howard, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries in game situations, and score a pair of wins in red and pewter.

He’s done it. Koetter believes in him, and so do his Tampa Bay teammates. That’s a great starting point.

No, the Saints aren’t the Falcons – they’re better.

And the Eagles certainly aren’t the Jets – they’re much better.

And for sure, the Steelers aren’t the Dolphins – they too are a much better team.

This isn’t going to be Fitzpatrick versus the Saints, Eagles and Steelers. It’s going to take a total team effort to avoid the 0-3 start that many of you have already penciled in for your Buccaneers, and I’m hear to tell you that this is more of a total team with all of the offseason additions, and the fact that guys like Howard, free safety Justin Evans and Godwin, the Saints-slayer, have more experience under their collective belts.

I saw an interesting stat last night on Twitter that I’ll borrow for this column. The Buccaneers’ first three games of the 2018 season are the toughest first three games of a season for any team in the Super Bowl era, based on their opponents’ records in the previous season:

Week 1 at Saints (11-5)
Week 2 vs. Eagles (13-3)
Week 3 vs. Steelers (13-3)

What a challenge – yet what an opportunity for these young, down and out, Winston-less Bucs to make a statement in the month of September.

Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and head coach Dirk Koetter - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Yes, the Bucs are going to be underdogs without Winston in the first three games of the season, but chances are, Tampa Bay would have been underdogs playing at New Orleans in Week 1, against Super Bowl champion Philadelphia at home in Week 2 and against Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football at home in Week 3 even with Winston under center.

Allen and Curry might as well bring some of their “underdog masks” from their time in Philly last year on the short flight across the Gulf of Mexico just to help set the mood in Week 1.

Speaking of New Orleans, remember that the Saints started the season 0-2 last year before catching fire and finishing 11-5 and on top of the NFC South. Overcoming a 0-2 start can be done. It’s not Mission Impossible – and I’m not necessarily convinced that the Bucs will start 0-2 right now.

Not having Winston will undoubtedly put more pressure on Koetter, offensive coordinator Todd Monken and defensive coordinator Mike Smith at the start of the 2018 campaign, and to that I say, “Good.”

In what looks like a make-or-break year for the Koetter regime, it’s good that this staff might truly have to step up and out-coach the other sideline in order to win in September without the team’s star quarterback. I want to see better red zone play calls and clock management, don’t you? I want to see better use of defensive personnel and more aggressive play-calls, don’t you?

Go ahead, Dirk. Out-game-plan Sean Payton. Out-smart Doug Pederson. Out-strategize Mike Tomlin. You’ve got enough time to plan, plot and scheme in July and August.

Take a step closer to Jon Gruden and Tony Dungy and a step further away from Lovie Smith, Greg Schiano and Raheem Morris in the process, Dirk.

For you Bucs fans looking for a silver lining in Thursday’s bad news, Winston’s three-game absence this year is planned. Koetter and Monken have all of training camp and the preseason to prepare Fitzpatrick and the offense for New Orleans. This isn’t like the Arizona game last year when Fitz came off the bench cold and had to warm up after not playing a snap in the first four games, and then coming off the bench cold again three weeks later at New Orleans when Winston re-injured his throwing shoulder.

Fitzpatrick saw action in five games in 2017, including three starts, and completed 96-of-163 (58.9 percent) passes for 1,103 yards with seven touchdowns, three interceptions and an 86 QB rating. Not bad for a 35-year old backup QB.

Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

With an array of weapons all around him, including some speed in the backfield with RoJo, all Fitzpatrick has to do is play point guard for three games and simply distribute the ball and avoid turnovers.

Don’t make mistakes. Don’t take chances. Basically, don’t beat yourself, Fitz.

Scramble if you must, Fitz. You carried the ball 15 times for 78 yards (5.2 avg.) yards last year, which proved to be effective. Pick up a first down or two every game with your legs to avoid taking a chance on third down with a risky pass. Keep the chains moving. Don’t turn the ball over.

To create a little confusion, I’m having Fitzpatrick sling it all over the field in the preseason if I’m Koetter. I’m running four-wide receiver packages like crazy and I’m lulling the Saints into thinking that the Bucs offense is going to be wide-open.

Then in Week 1, the game plan suddenly turns conservative with more two-tight end sets, and the Bucs rely on an improved running game behind a revamped offensive line and retooled defensive line that is expected to be stouter against the run and more dangerous against the pass. Koetter needs to turn back the clock, channel Dungy for a few games, and play some old “Buc Ball” in September.

Play conservative. Fewer risky deep passes trying to get explosive plays, and more handoffs to Barber and Jones.

We all know that the likes of Evans, Brate and Co. can catch the ball, and that Winston can sling it when he’s on the field and healthy.

Make the Bucs offensive line have to consistently run the ball to win. Put the pressure on Tampa Bay’s defense to have to wear the Superman cape starting in Week 1.

Winning in New Orleans will come far easier for Tampa Bay if the score is 21-17 in their favor. Remember, the Bucs beat the Saints, 16-11, at Raymond James Stadium in 2016. Tampa Bay won in New Orleans, 26-19, at the Superdome in Week 2 of the 2015 season.

The key is holding Drew Brees and the dangerous Saints offense to less than 20 points, and that is accomplished by keeping Brees on the sidelines with a potent ground game, and three-and-outs and takeaways by an improved Bucs defense.

Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Win ugly.

Win like the Bucs did against the Jets last year, 15-10.

Just win a game or two until Winston returns –avoid a 0-3 start.

Make the worst thing imaginable – a three-game suspension for Winston to start the season – a rallying cry and make it the best thing that could have happened for this year’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers team in hindsight.

It can be done. This season isn’t over yet.

It hasn’t even begun.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think this Buccaneers team starts 0-3 without Winston.

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34 COMMENTS

  1. It’s hard for me to think fitz can win more than maybe one of the first three games. I can’t use last year as a barometer as he okayed two of the worst teams on our schedule. 1-2 would be a win in my book. A steady focus on the run game could help and smitty needs to earn his paycheck the first three weeks. As forJameis, this is very disappointing and I’m a huge fan, but he put himself in this position and that’s on him. Why not appeal? Why would he? It didn’t work for Tom or Zeke and Tom is the golden boy. It would just drag out and make it worse. I think it all comes down to how he plays when he gets back. I like the idea of bringing in bridgwater and a qb will definitely get drafted by us next year. I wouldn’t sign him long term either until after the season to make sure. I think fatherhood and marriage change a man for the better so we can hope that works but he needs to get his head out of his ass and straighten up quick. Again very disappointed in Jameis, hes got a lot of making up to do to everyone Including his teammates. The three game suspension is so weird though. If the NFL found something egregious, why not 6 games which is standard for this kind of thing? Why only three?

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  2. No, the Bucs can not win this season with Fitz, they need a Veteran QB in his late 20s Now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    • Can Fitz throw a 15 yrd pass with any zip??? I have my doubts.

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  3. I don’t like not knowing if the quarterback of my favorite team has good morals or not. I know there’s no proof he did anything, but for him to be in another situation like his college days makes me wonder about his character.

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  4. I will be surprised knowing the Bucs have a world-class investigative team – the same one that performed due diligence when he was vetted for the draft, that they had no idea that this was the case. I find it hard to believe that they are blind-sided by this report. Fan reaction, Women in Red, and Darcie Glazer will have a lot to say about Winston’s future with the Bucs. We have yet to hear a response from the Bucs or a statement from Winston.

    The daggers are out, some calling for the Bucs to cut or trade Winston. I am not willing to go that far now. I admit this does not have a good look, but much is to be found out about how this purported 3 game suspension was done by the NFL with no apparent appeal to be made. I’m just guessing, bit it sound like some sort of a deal or plea.

    Obviously, this will affect the outcome of an already difficult schedule. There is hope although I’m stretching for it here. In 2010, QB Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for a similar reason for 4 games (originally six) and QB Charlie Batch stepped in and played well until Big Ben returned. They reached Super Bowl XLV, but lost to the Green Bay Packers 31–25. Roethlisberger got married, cleaned up his act and may now be a candidate for the HOF.

    Now the Bucs aren’t the Steelers and Winston is not Roethlisberger. But it did happen and we shouldn’t go dive off the nearest cliff. Let’s wait for the remaining facts, hear from Bucs ownership, and stay loyal to our team. By virtue of the suspension, he has no guaranteed 5th year option, so the money will not be an issue. The Roethlisberger saga says this could be fixed with a healthy dose of maturity and good on-field play. I would not object if the Bucs gave him a year to reprove himself. I have seen only one poll (TBT) and it agrees with my thinking so far. This may not be the end of the world, it just feels like it now. Go Bucs!

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  5. “The two big knocks on Winston coming out of Florida State were his character and his penchant for throwing interceptions. Three years into his NFL career it’s unfortunate that he has yet to dispel either.”

    I told you so. Both of those knocks are directly coupled to his overconfidence which Winston himself said he would never lose in an interview after the draft. Seeing his overconfidence as confidence is one of many mistakes you made in your evaluation process before and after the draft.

    We are 20-28 since we drafted Winston. He is not a “winner”.

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    • Said it perfectly pinkstob
      Now Bucs starting this year in a bad situation self-induced
      I been taking heat for 2 years because I unlike the FSU/tag Bucs fans did not think wins coming
      under Jamies Winston, you forgot to bring up scouts red flag on his feet work and lowering elbow
      when throwing they say it hurts accuracy and delays pass.

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    • 18-28 Fitz got 2 of the wins

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      • Well, I went back and forth on whether to show the team’s record or Winston’s. I knew Winston’s record is actually worse than 20-28, but to me the decision to draft Winston led to an injured QB for two games last season and I was trying to be fair and give credit to the decision to draft Winston because we still won those two games.

        I agree with you on all fronts, but I just to be clear that drafting Winston was a bad decision for the team and we still had a losing record overall even when you include the time when he wasn’t even playing because he was still part of the team.

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        • What if I told you WInston is a player and the team record refers to 53 players on game day? Was Drew Brees a loser because his team went 7-9 for three years before last year?

          Obvious troll is obvious. To the cave!

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          • I would respond by saying I gave the team record not Winston’s, which you would have known had you read my comment and my additional comments. Yes, if you only count the 3 years Brees lost then yes, he was a loser those years. Being a loser isn’t subjective, it’s based on how many games someone wins and loses. Finally, you’re trolling me right now.

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        • Winstons solid.

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  6. Nice work, Scott… It was funny that you mentioned Teddy Bridgewater, because I was going over every team’s backup QB situation and I was thinking, who would the Bucs be wise to look at… Teddy Bridgewater was number one on that list for me. As for Jameis, and I have been a big supporter; I look at the standards that the different teams have for cutting or trading player. Ben Roethlisberger come to mind. He has been a popular comparison for Jameis with his on the field play. How about off the field? Ben has allegedly partipated in far worse actions off the field and he is still in the Black & Gold uniform… Hell, first ballot HOF and no one will bat an eye? Why is the Bucs organization held to such different standards? I don’t know the facts of Jameis’ alleged actions, but the Bucs MUST get him into a counciling situation asap, if the facts unfold unkindly for him. I would not cut or trade him at this point.

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    • I wouldn’t mind seeing the bucs take a chance on him, he still has potential and more importantly, he’s not a questionable character.

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      • I agree, Ry. We’ll all be interested in hearing the full set of facts when and if they ever come out.

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  7. He travels in good company Jamies Winston /JaMarcus Russell/Robert Griffin III/ Vince Young/Johnny Manziel,
    Get use to it folks how do you spell bust B U S T did I say BUST B! U! S! T!

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    • Obvious troll is obvious. To the cave!

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  8. As usual I’m disappointed as Bucs fan again. Always something with this team last 10 years.

    Anyways,I’ve supported Winston from day 1 but this really makes me wonder. I wouldn’t cut him or do anything drastic, but he better have a great season when he’s back and see how rest of this plays out. Where there is smoke there is fire. I’d say he has 50/50 chance of being here past year 5. Depends on if he grows up with marriage quick and plays lights out this year. I didn’t renew my season tickets this year for first time in long time. Some personal issues but also just haven’t enjoyed being there last few years for lot of games. Glad I’ll be watching from the couch his year. Not a fair weather fan but that’s where I’m at right now.

    Good comment about Rothlisburger, He did do worse but he played better and he did have long stretch now of no issues too.
    Fitzpatrick is old and so erratic. Uggh a Bucs life it is.

    They would be foolish not to try to do something with Bridgewater if at all possible just in case.

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  9. Good article Scott.
    I’m struggling here to be positive about the 2018 team. Myabe our Defense will take the challenge to make a differnce this year and carry this team to the Playoff’s.
    Patriots have played in the softest Division in the NFL (Jets, Buffalo, Miami) for much of 2 decades and our situation is not the same.
    Scott, I like your idea about Bridgewater; also, believe we need to find a heavier ground pounder RB to make those 3rd & 1 and 4th & inches..
    As to Winston; I’m done with him and don’t want him here in Tampa Bay. Character does matter. I was a Winston fan from the first day I saw him pratice at FSU and in his first year playing baseball. I loved his spirit, but his immaturity and his pour decision making to hang with the wrong people is still ongoing. No one told him to be a liar; he chose to do it. I believe sooner or later Winston will do something else inappropriate. He shouldn’t be one of the faces of the Bucs or Tampa Bay. He is no example for anyone to follow.

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  10. Damn, what a difference a day makes. Quarterback controversies suck and we’ve had them forever in this town. Really, we’ve never had a quarterback that all the fans endorsed. I have no idea what the “facts” are in this case. I doubt if we ever will. The whole country is suffering from a loss of morality and soul. Nobody seems to believe that lying matters anymore. Its hard to teach your kids not to lie when your President lies every day and even his most ardent supporters know it and turn the other cheek. Of course, I don’t know if Winston lied or not. But unlike our President who never apologizes and always blames someone else, I do expect a huge apology if he did lie.

    As for Fitz. Bravo to FAB 5. Pro Football is the ultimate team sport. The Buccaneers have a lot to prove. They should be super motivated. Fitz is a savvy old guy. This is the best offensive roster by far that he’s ever played on. He can get the job done. I thought the way he rallied the team in the last few minutes against Miami, which had all the momentum was fantastic, but he never got much credit. Let’s stay behind him. We beat Pittsburgh with a much worse quarterback last time we played them in Pittsburgh. I would not be shocked by a 2-1 start or by fans wanting him to stay on after the first three games.

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  11. Scott,

    We don’t agree on a lot of things and I think one of the key reasons is that you write based on how you ‘feel’ things should be rather than how they are. I get it, you cover the Bucs, it pays to have optimistic fans looking forward to the season so they continue to check your site. I can’t imagine the 0-8 faceplant under Schiano or the 2-14 beginning of Licht’s reign of error resulted in a ton of clicks and interest. But if you look back to your Bucs record predictions over the the past decade of despair, how many times were you predicting 10-6? How many times, including that glorious 2-14 worst-team-in-football season did you see a lot to love about this team as you watched them play each other in practice?

    I remember your statement that after years of being fooled by this team you wouldn’t be able to bring yourself to predict this team in the playoffs this year. And damned if you weren’t about to jump right back onto the playoffs bandwagon right before this suspension hit. I get that my posts about your buddy Jason, the worst GM in modern Bucs history by record, can be negative and people don’t like to hear that. But sometimes it is what it is, and while it might not ‘feel’ good to write it, it’s often better to accept what is and work to correct it (by cleaning house) than to irrationally repeat the same mistakes you’ve been making for the past 10 years.

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    • Agreed

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  12. Fitz goes 3-0 we have a Q.B. controversy! LoL! The sky’s not falling, just a little cloudy. No need to make any snap decisions on Winston, plenty of time and options there. Should draft someone next year, and not opposed to fining an upgrade over Griffin.

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  13. Oh, no excuses!

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  14. Then when do you get rid of him? Cause this staff seems to be dodging that question as well…because we all know that he hasn’t fixed either of his 2 biggest issues remotely since coming out of college. Seriously how long until this team devotes at least another 1st RD pick on a QB who isn’t dumb?

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    • didnt this happen two years ago? Im not saying it was okay by any means but it was two years ago. If he plays lights out this season and stays clean why would you question getting rid of him? So many people wanna get rid of him. Then what? He goes to another team turns into the next big ben and starts winning. Then what its Doug Williams all over again? pfftttt

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  15. Now referencing the beginning of your article, Fitza can absolutely start at least 2-1 if we go mostly out of 2 TE sets and run the football more. With our personnel I’m honestly shocked it’s not our base package. Cam and O.J. swapping pass and block duties with our top 3 WRs rotating into the 2 man formation and a balance of RoJo and Barber would have teams heads spinning. It’s the base personally package the Pat’s used with moss, Gronkowski and Hernandez. It’s absolutely possible, probably not to that effect obviously but we can absolutely win games. And that’s only if Koetter and Smitty don’t coach like idiots. Which isn’t a guarantee either as they’ve demonstrated so far…man there isn’t alot of intelligence at the important positions of the Bucs organization.

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  16. I agree 100% Surf. I am tired of standing around waiting for the Bad-luck-Buc-Train to crash our season, so we can spend our off-season making excuses and firing coaches. No doubt in my mind that we are going to open a can of Whoop Ass!! this season and plow through the NFC South and deep into the playoffs!! I am all out of Bad Attitude. Life is just too short.

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  17. Rothenberger was accused of much worse, got suspended and had his suspension reduced. Cutting Winston after this would prove that the Buccaneers really have no stomach at all. They are not deserving of having a championship Team because whenever they get close they find a way to screw it up, especially when it comes to QB’s. If we cut the first Franchise QB this organization has ever had after an incident that has no witnesses, then every QB that ever plays for us needs to know, as soon as controversy comes, of any kind, you are toast.

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  18. Fab 1 – Totally agree that the team is much more than just Winston and maybe they win a couple of those games – decisively.

    Fab 2 – Winston needs to explain himself, apologize for his inappropriate behavior, apologize for lying, take his suspension, and move forward. It happened two years ago and while it shouldn’t be criminal to try to score with the ladies, Winston earned his suspension by groping the lady, even if only for a few seconds according to the driver.

    Fab 3 – Shaun WIlson reminds me of Warrick Dunn. Love this guys confidence! He looked decent returning kicks in college too!

    Fab 4 – The O Line is a big question mark. I hope these new players show up when the pads go on!

    Fab 5 – Please Spence, show us something! Defense will have to show up in a big way the first 3 weeks AND BEYOND!

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  19. There’s no reason Winston can’t overcome this. Roethisberger stuffed his meat down a chicks throat in a bathroom in a club. Winston allegedly brushed up against this girl while reaching for his taco bell.

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    • lmao

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  20. Could we please just have one season where we aren’t looking at mock drafts from day one? The sky isn’t falling. We have a good backup with a winning record. Yeah, he played against not so great teams last year, but that was the schedule. We don’t really know how Fitz would have done against top tier talent, because he didn’t have the chance. What we do know is that he won.
    Bucs won a superbowl with a winning attitude, solid team play and great coaching. And, a QB who was average at best. We can manage a winning record with QB problems.
    Many of their losses the past few years have been due to idiotic coaching, bad clock management, poor kicking and stupid penalties. I think if we get those issues under control we can win.
    And, most importantly, Bucs need to believe in themselves. That’s been lacking for almost a generation.

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  21. Much like the rest of the team, I will stand by Jameis until something is proven. Yes, there is a pattern with him, but there is also a pattern of being accused with no proof. First of all, this alleged incident occurred in 2016 so why are we only hearing about it now? Second, this driver’s story has changed multiple times so how are we to believe it?

    The NFL stated that they aren’t suspending Jameis for his alleged actions, but rather for “failure to report.” Another sign that there is no proof of the allegations to stick to him, the league is just looking to do something to prove that they didn’t do “nothing.”

    We can win with Fitz! This is a much better team with a lot of options on both offense and defense. Our defense should be much improved so it won’t be all on Fitz to begin with. The offense has many weapons to choose from and an improved oline and run game to back him up with. Overall, Fitz has always been the higher floor/lower ceiling player compared to Jameis. All we need him to do is manage the game and we should be able to keep it tight.

    All those calling for Winston’s head are misguided by the media hype around the incident. A claim of an incident from 2 years ago that was never prosecuted and there is no proof of isn’t enough to cut a player. Especially when he is the star of the offense and a player that obviously the rest of the team and coaching staff is behind.

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