FAB 2. Winston Is Ready To Lead Bucs
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter did the right thing in benching Ryan Fitzpatrick for Jameis Winston in the second half of Tampa Bay’s 48-10 loss at Chicago, and inserting Winston as the team’s starting quarterback for the rest of the season.
I was clear about what it would take for Winston to get his starting job back after Fitzpatrick’s hot 2-0 start that featured him winning back-to-back NFC Offensive Player of the Week awards. I said that Fitzpatrick needed to have back-to-back losses in games he started and for him not to play well in those games.
That’s exactly what needed to happen in order to effectively turn the offense back over to Winston without snubbing Fitzpatrick and abandoning a hot hand, and that’s exactly what happened. Smart move by Koetter.
Fitzpatrick scored nine touchdowns and had one turnover in the first two games, but had four turnovers and three touchdowns in the next two games, which were losses. It’s time to give Winston, who would have been the starter from Week 1 if not for a three-game NFL suspension, the rest of the season as he is the quarterback of the future – not the 35-year old Fitzpatrick, who may retire at the end of the season.
Trailing 38-3 at halftime, Koetter admitted that he put Winston in an awful position to see his first action, but to his credit, Winston showed very little rust. There was a bad interception on his final throw of the game where he was staring down tight end Cam Brate, and a misfire on an easy out to DeSean Jackson that would have been a first down. Winston also threw an interception when his arm was hit by Khalil Mack in the third quarter, but that was Ali Marpet’s fault for a poor block attempt – not Winston’s.
Winston was sacked twice, and the second one was his fault for hanging on to the ball too long. Otherwise, he looked poised, he looked patient, and when the pocket was breaking down Winston showed remarkable escapability in breaking tackles and getting out of sacks.
“You see some plays where Jameis looked really sharp as far as running the offense and getting us in and out of the huddle,” Koetter said. “We ran a fair amount of no-huddle when he was in there. Obviously, his scrambling – he didn’t forget how to scramble and he made a couple of plays in that area.
“At the same time, and I think a perfect example was that out rout to DeSean right in front of our bench where Jameis is going to hit that 99 times out of 100. He didn’t just miss it by a little. He missed it by a lot. That’s one of the benefits to him playing [on Sunday] instead of that possibly happening in Atlanta. As much as we try to practice at game speed, it’s not game speed.”
In his first half back in action, Winston completed 16-of-20 passes (80 percent) for 145 yards and one touchdown at Chicago along with those two picks. Winston looked to be in better shape physically than he did when he left after training camp, and remember that he is coming off his best preseason yet in which the fourth-year quarterback completed 30-of-41 passes (73.2 percent) for 388 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions and a QB rating of 126.9.
Winston’s hard work during his three-game suspension paid off. Winston didn’t just hit the gym and throw the ball around the yard. The 24-year old showed incredible maturity in mimicking the Bucs practice schedule during the week and assembling a team of practice players.
Here is Winston’s daily schedule for three weeks with his personal QB coach George Whitfield, Jr. that was revealed on the Fox broadcast on Sunday:
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday
7:00 am – 10:30 am – film session at Winston’s home
11:00 am – 12:15 pm – walk through at Skyway Park
1:15 pm – 4:00 pm – stretch/practice with former player
Saturday – mock game
Sunday – watch game at home with family
“I did my best impersonation of what it would be like as an in-season schedule being here,” Winston said. “I got the guys from Orlando area. Ft. Lauderdale, Lakeland. Louis Murphy even came out there and threw a couple passes – brought him out of retirement – and we just went to work. I didn’t want the guys in this building to be working hard and I wasn’t out there doing my thing. Other than spending a lot of quality time with my family – because I didn’t have a chance to spend time with my Buccaneer family – we did a lot of great things. After every practice, I catered meals to my teammate just so I could have that team-bonding that I missed here. I feel like we had a pretty good plan together.”
Koetter was blown away by Winston’s dedication to his craft and how serious he took football during his three-week suspension. I was too.
“I wasn’t there so I don’t know, but knowing Jameis the fact that he came up with that plan and put it into motion and recruited people to help – I’ve never seen that before,” Koetter said. “It really doesn’t surprise me knowing Jameis like I know him. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing the film of it to see what it looked like. I’m sure Jameis got his wish – he was the player and the coach at the same time.”
Yes, Winston got himself into this suspension mess with his behavior two and half years ago. But one has to be impressed with how he handled his time away from the Buccaneers and the leadership and self-discipline he showed in continuing his football grind away from his teammates and the AdventHealth Training Facility.
That’s the type of stuff leaders are made of, and an 80 percent completion percentage in his first game back is an example of the effectiveness of his hard work.
New Orleans’ QB Drew Brees set the single season completion percentage record in 2009 (70.6 percent), beat it again in 2011 (71.2 percent) and after Sam Bradford completed 71.6 percent of his passes in Minnesota in 2016, Brees topped it again with a 72 percent completion percentage last year.
No, I don’t think Winston will break Brees’ single-season completion percentage mark. He might not even reach 70 percent on the season. But Winston very well could continue his climb as a more accurate passer.
We’ve seen Winston’s completion percentage rise from 58.3 percent as a rookie to 60.8 percent in 2016 to 63.8 percent last year. If he can increase that to a 66-67 percent completion percentage this year and cut down his interceptions the Bucs offense will continue to be a threat to score 28 points or more per game.
Winston spent some extra time at the team’s practice facility during the bye week and I would look for him to be ready to take it to an injury-depleted Atlanta defense next week.