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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 Are Wise To Stick With Fitz For Now
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Tampa Bay’s offense.
The plan was for offensive coordinator Todd Monken to call plays in the preseason for experience and then for head coach Dirk Koetter to resume play-calling duties once the regular season came around.
Then all of a sudden, Monken showed a real knack for play-calling and Tampa Bay’s offense was scoring touchdowns in the red zone, and averaging 28 points per game, while the Bucs’ three quarterbacks combined to complete over 67 percent of their passes for six touchdowns and zero turnovers in August.
Koetter didn’t want to rock the boat and wisely stuck with Monken in the play-caller role once Week 1 rolled around.
The plan was for Ryan Fitzpatrick to start the first three games and use his veteran experience to help Tampa Bay avoid a 0-3 start during Jameis Winston’s three-game suspension. When Winston returned after the Pittsburgh game he would reclaim the starting quarterback duties.
Then all of a sudden, Fitzpatrick turned into FitzMagic, and Tampa Bay has the top-ranked offense and passing game through three weeks, in addition to the third-best scoring offense in the NFL, averaging 34 points per game. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick became the second-leading passer in the league behind only Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.
Koetter doesn’t want to rock the boat and will wisely stick with Fitzpatrick as the team’s starting quarterback this week when Tampa Bay travels to Chicago to take on a much improved and dangerous Bears team this Sunday.
It’s ironic that the Tampa Bay Times – almost universally – wants Winston to start immediately when its columnists were calling for the Bucs to cut him during the summer when his three-game suspension was announced.
Cut him! But start him!
I don’t get it.
I had faith in Fitzpatrick all the way, dating back to my SR’s Fab 5 column immediately after Winston’s suspension was made public. And I still believe in Winston and that he can be a franchise-caliber starter in Tampa Bay moving forward in the near future.
It’s just that in the present and in the immediate future, Fitzpatrick is off to a record start that can’t be ignored. At age 35, Fitzpatrick has become the first NFL quarterback to throw for 400 yards in three consecutive games. Not Tom Brady. Not Peyton Manning. Not Drew Brees. Not Dan Marino, nor Matt Ryan nor Philip Rivers.
It’s Fitzpatrick, and none of that yardage came in garbage time as the Bucs began the 2018 campaign with a 2-1 start. Fitzpatrick is averaging 410 passing yards per game, but more importantly, he is 4-2 in his last six starts, while Winston is 2-10 in his last 12.
This isn’t a Fitzpatrick vs. Winston column. I really like both quarterbacks and the Bucs do, too. I like Fitz’s hot hand right now, and I like the fact that Winston will be ready when Fitz cools off. Winston is coming off his best-ever preseason in which he looked razor-sharp, completing 30-of-41 passes (73.2 percent) for 388 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, no fumbles and a 126.9 QB rating.
The only questionable Winston pass that I can remember that was a near interception in the preseason came in Tennessee on a jump ball in the end zone thrown off his back foot into traffic. Yet Chris Godwin out-jumped the Titans defensive backs and came down with a terrific touchdown instead of allowing the pass to get picked off.
By comparison, Fitzpatrick completed 17-of-28 passes (60.7 percent) for 183 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions in the preseason and had a QB rating of 79.9. Three of the drives that Fitzpatrick engineered in the preseason resulted in rushing touchdowns (two by Peyton Barber and one by Ronald Jones).
But now Fitzpatrick has completed 78-of-111 passes (70.3 percent) for 1,230 yards with 11 touchdowns, four interceptions and a QB rating of 124.8, which is second in the league only behind Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, who has thrown 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in the Chiefs’ 3-0 start.
Right now, FitzMagic is still in the air and Fitzpatrick’s 1,230 yards lead all NFL passers – ahead of Ben Roethlisberger’s 1,140 yards and Drew Brees’ 1,078 yards. DeSean Jackson (312 yards, three TDs) and Mike Evans (367 yards, three TDs) are the first pair of teammates in NFL history to each record at least 300 receiving yards and three touchdown catches through their team’s first three games of a season.
Fitz’s magical start can’t be ignored, and Koetter is wise to not ignore it and continue to start him this week in Chicago – and perhaps beyond until the FitzMagic wears off.
“Fitzpatrick has been a savior. Think 49ers GM and former Bucs great John Lynch doesn’t wish he had a Fitzpatrick about now, with Jimmy Garoppolo out for the year? If Winston returns and plays well, I’d ship Fitz for a third- or fourth-rounder.
If only it was editorially appropriate to insert a “shake my head” emoji into this article right about now.
Remember that Winston missed three games due to a shoulder injury last year and the Bucs’ 2-1 start this season is why Licht and Koetter wanted Fitzpatrick back for one more year. And remember that third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin, although he looked good in the preseason, has never taken a snap in an NFL regular season game.
No, the Bucs should not trade Fitzpatrick this year – to a team they are going to play in November – for middle-round draft picks. That’s asinine.
The Bucs are in trouble – if they beat the Bears to improve to 3-1 on the season with Fitzpatrick at quarterback?
Isn’t the goal of every NFL teams to win games? How exactly would a 3-1 record during Tampa Bay’s most difficult part of the schedule be “trouble?”
Just because of a media-manufactured quarterback controversy? At 3-1 there is no controversy. Fitzpatrick stays at quarterback until he doesn’t play well resulting in back-to-back losses with him at the helm. Then Koetter thinks about putting Winston in.
Everything I’ve heard tells me that this organization believes in Winston for the long term. It’s not like they have to see Winston do this or that in 2018 to cement his future in Tampa Bay. The Bucs saw a more accurate quarterback when Winston returned from his injury last year. They saw Winston lead the Bucs to a comeback win in his last regular season game – the 2017 season finale victory over NFC South champion New Orleans.
Even before the team saw him dazzle in the 2018 preseason, the Bucs had already picked up his fifth-year option next year and committed $20.92 million to Winston in 2019.
Barring any type of meltdown – on or off the field next year, Winston will either get a long-term contract extension that will pay him $20 million per year in 2020 and beyond, or he will get the franchise tag that will pay him north of $24 million for one year in 2020 as the team works towards a multi-year extension.
At age 24, Winston’s long-term future with the Bucs is all but secure. Wisely, Koetter and Licht aren’t focused on that. They are focused on what every head coach and general manager should be consumed with from September through December – winning games and making the playoffs.
Right now that’s with Fitzpatrick leading the way.