The game between the Bucs and the Bears may have kicked off at 1:00 p.m. Eastern last week, but it might as well have been midnight because Cinderella’s magic carriage turned into a pumpkin. Speaking of course about Ryan Fitzpatrick, the quasi-journeyman quarterback turned future Hall-of-Famer – if but for a three-week span. Was it the looming specter of Jameis Winston back from his three-game suspension, or just a matter of time before Fitzy’s magic turned tragic?
Tampa Bay found itself on the short end of a 48-10 mauling by the Bears as Fitzpatrick took a backseat after failing to ignite the offense in the first half and was replaced by Winston. Unfortunately, a change in quarterbacks did not cause a change in offensive performance as Winston ended the game with 145 yards passing with one touchdown and two interceptions.
The focus now shifts to Winston. His fifth-year option kicks in next season at $20.92 million, and that trigger was once a foregone conclusion. But his on field performance, coupled with his off-field transgressions, might give the Bucs’ brass cause for pause if the offense doesn’t click with the mastery shown by Fitzpatrick in the first three games. The Bucs will have the rest of this season and most of next to determine whether Winston will be signed to a long-term contract extension or whether Winston’s tenure in Tampa Bay will come to an unceremonious halt.
The offensive woes on display last week were only eclipsed by Tampa’s defensive travails. Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky connected on 19-of-26 passes for 354 yards with six touchdowns and no picks in the drubbing of the Bucs on Sunday. The 24-year-old North Carolina product also rushed three times for 53 yards. Tampa Bay had just one sack and gave Trubisky enough time in the pocket to call his agent and restructure his deal. Oh, and if you’re wondering, Trubisky had a grand total of seven TD passes in 2017.
It was brutal and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy was a casualty as the Bucs released him after the game, which could preclude the return of Beau Allen’s return from a foot injury and onto the gridiron soon. Defensive tackle Rakeem Nuñez-Roches was signed in Worthy’s stead and hopefully the former Chiefs lineman can provide at least a bigger body along the defensive line.
Next up for the Bucs, after their Week 5 bye week is a divisional tilt with the Atlanta Falcons. Last season, Tampa Bay dropped both contests to its NFC South rivals by scores of 34-20 and 24-21. The latter was a more ambitious performance by the Bucs in which the best betting sites had Tampa as a seven-point home underdog. Those who had faith in the Bucs were rewarded as the home team covered the number and brought home the cash. In that game, Winston played like a No. 1 overall draft pick when he launched three touchdowns and passed for 299 yards. Five of those connections went to his top target Mike Evans, who had a trip into the end zone and 79 yards receiving.
The Bucs will have plenty to think about over the next week before they meet the Falcons and if Winston doesn’t produce at a high level the rest of this season then there could be plenty of changes in the Bay, from the coaches to the quarterback to the ball boys. Nothing is off the table, but let’s remember that only a quarter of the season has passed so there’s still hope.