Granted it’s only one game, but oh, what a game it was for veteran Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick Sunday in New Orleans. Fitzpatrick had a career passing day with 417 yards and four touchdowns through the air and an additional rushing touchdown in Tampa Bay’s record 48-40 win against the Saints.
Just days after Bucs fans and national media were wondering if the Bucs would win a game with the 14 year veteran at the helm during Jameis Winston’s suspension, the narrative is reversed.
Now, everywhere you read or watch, it has become “If he plays well, you have to play Fitzpatrick.”
Want some examples?
Tuesday morning on the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football,” guest NFL media insider Mike Garafolo had a quick answer in the “Believe it or not” segment they were doing:
Did the stellar play of Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 1 create a QB controversy for the Bucs? 🤔
— GMFB (@gmfb) September 11, 2018
That wasn’t the only show voluntarily touting the 35 year old Fitzpatrick. Back on Monday night on CBS Sports Network and their “NFL Monday QB” show, analysts and former QBs Rich Gannon and Trent Green both agreed that if his play is still solid or better that the Bucs should stick with Fitzpatrick, even when Winston is back.
— Rich Gannon (@RichGannon12) September 10, 2018
Look. We all realize that the Buccaneers have always felt that Winson can lead them to the post-season and beyond. The problem is that with the NFL mandated suspension for three games, he’s away entirely from the team.
And if Fitzpatrick continues to throw/play well, and most importantly, the Bucs knock off the Super Bowl champion Eagles? Then, this debate will gather an overwhelming amount of believers that he should remain starting and playing significantly.
Now, that’s going to be “easier said than done,” especially considering the defense that the Eagles has for this one, too.
So, there will be lots of eyes locally and a big number nationally and on the internet ready to sing Fitzpatrick’s praises, if he succeeds on the big stand alone stage.
And a victory would put the Bucs in a very interesting spot with both QBs
Bucs defense headed for all time dubious records
It’s become apparent with each passing week since his firing, Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith wasn’t the only real problem with Tampa Bay’s defense.
With the understanding that they’ve had significant injuries to key personnel and have been playing inexperienced and young players because of it, the Buccaneers defense is still no better under interim coordinator Mark Duffner.
And at the rate that they are going, the Bucs may about to be setting some dubious all-time NFL records for bad defense. Really bad defense.
In the midst of a four game losing streak, now, that has dropped them to 3 – 7 on the season, it’s staggering that the Buccaneers continue to play a game after game after game without registering a single takeaway from the other team.
How about: the Bucs have not had a defensive takeaway since their Monday night game with Pittsburgh in week three. That night, safety Justin Evans intercepted Ben Roethlisberger, and that’s been it for a long dry spell defensively, ever since.
The Bucs did get a special teams take away in the overtime during their victory against the Cleveland Browns on October 21st. So, that’s the only time they have gotten a turnover in two months of football.
Almost unfathomable for an NFL team.
Further, Evans’ interception is also the only one of the season for the Buccaneers, which is also approaching an all-time dubious record.
So, let’s take a look at the record book with six games to go:
The Bucs currently stand 31st in the NFL with six measley total takeaways. Only the 49ers, their opponent this week, have fewer with five. If you are wondering about the fewest takeaways in a season, that number is 11.
Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in the late ’70s, three teams: the 2013 Texans, the 2015 Cowboys, and the 2016 Bears have had the fewest of 11 takeaways in a season. The Buccaneers have six more games to get 5 more takeaways defensively or they will own the record.
Likewise, with only the one interception to this point, that is also in danger of becoming the worst ever for an NFL defense with a 16-game schedule. The fewest by a club playing 16 games is the 1996 Atlanta Falcons who had only six interceptions that year.
The 1961 is Houston Oilers of the AFL had three interceptions in a 14-game season and the ’72 Oilers (post merger) had six interceptions. The 1982 Baltimore Colts registered just five interceptions in the strike-shortened season that was only 11 games.
So, Dufner’s defense essentially has to come up with two more picks in the next four weeks or else they are worse than the ’61 Oilers. And they have to come up with five more interceptions in the final six games to match the ’96 Falcons.
That appears, at the moment, to be a tough task with a team that simply cannot create takeaways.
Meanwhile, it’s not helping on the other side of the ball, as Tampa Bay is giving the ball away at an astronomical rate. The Bucs have 29 giveaways, including 23 interceptions, both of which lead the NFL.
In fact Sunday, they had four more interceptions, and obviously no takeaways, which dropped the plus-minus ratio to – 23 on the season.
There have been some awful teams in the 2000’s in turnover margin at the end of the year. That list includes the 2006 Oakland Raiders who were – 23 and the 2005 Saints and Packers, who were both – 24. And, the all time worst in this century is the San Diego Chargers, who were -28 in the turnover margin.
The Bucs defense is still giving up the most passing yards on average and the most points overall per game (32.9) this season in the NFL.
So, it’s going to be a tall task for them to try to create some takeaways, but they need to soon or this 2018 season will go down in history for a lot of wrong reasons.
Bucs will turn back, once more, to QB James Winston to start
The Buccaneers version of “musical chairs” at quarterback continued Monday, and they will now turn back to Jameis Winston for this week’s game with the 49ers. It’s a move that was not unexpected, as Winston relieved starter Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second half of Tampa Bay’s 38 – 35 win over the Giants Sunday and excelled.
Winston lead four touchdown drives to rally the Bucs from being down by 17 points and get them within three points of New York in the fourth quarter and have a chance to win the game. This after Fitzpatrick had thrown three interceptions over the course of the first three quarters of the game.
The Bucs still seem to be unsteady about what to do with the quarterback situation. And, this included coach Dirk Koetter telling the media after the game Sunday that he would have a decision on Monday, but then during his press conference he told the media that he had notyet met with the quarterbacks and therefore would not be reviewing a decision.
This made it more awkward, as the reporters wanted to ask about why he would be making another switch or why he would be sticking with the veteran Fitzpatrick. A short time later Winston and Fitzpatrick were apparently informed and word leaked out that Tampa Bay will be going back to the former number one overall pick from 2015.
This is the third quarterback change at the Buccaneers have made since their fifth game this season. That’s when they went to Winston for the first time, since his three game suspension had ended to begin the season. Quarterback Tampa Bay’s loss in Atlanta and played fairly well, although he did have two interceptions in the game. The next two weeks were struggles where Winston had three turnovers in the Bucs overtime win over the Browns and then threw three more interceptions before being benched for the fourth quarter of their eventual lost the Bangles.
Fitzpatrick relieve Winston in that game and rallied the team from an 18-point deficit to get the game tied and he was named the starter for the Buccaneers eigth game against Carolina. However, over the course of the next three games, all losses, Fitzpatrick had 8 turnovers. And as the losing continued, Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes are all but extinguished now with a five-game losing streak and their record standing at 3 – 7.
The decision to go back to Winston is not necessarily a permanent one either, as the last few weeks have bourne out. This is primarily because, the Buccaneers would be on the hook for the fifth year option of Winston’s rookie contract should he be injured down the stretch and unable to pass an March physical. If that is the case, they would then owe him $20 million guaranteed for 2019.
Now, it’s looking more and more likely that the Bucs will make a change at head coach with Koetter, and may also fire GM Jason Licht if the losing continues this season. This would mean that a new regime’ would have the decision to make about whether to keep Winston and about what kind of deal to give him for 2019 in the future if they want to keep him?
One more variable in this scenario is reserve quarterback Ryan Griffin, who played well in the preseason, and the Bucs want to eventually take a look at in regular season games, especially if they are eliminated from playoff contention. It may very well be in the coming weeks, the Griffin gets the opportunity to start for the Buccaneers in this sorted QB scenario.
For now, and the Bucs have demonstrated that “for now” means only a game or two, and Winston is back as the starter.
For how long?
That is the real question
Is the FitzMagic Show Over?
I think I know now why Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter stuck with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB for Sunday’s game against the Giants. It seems the plan all along was to stick with Fitz until he exceeded Jameis Winston’s pick total.
That would make a move back to Winston seem warranted and to the surprise of few, Fitzpatrick obliged on Sunday by throwing three picks, including a pick-six, during a 38-35 loss at Giants Stadium.
That brought Fitzpatrick’s season pick total to 12, two more than Winston, and so FitzMagic is gone. His magic touch has been gone for a while, but now he and his magic touch are gone for good. Unless they’re not.
You never know with these Bucs, so let’s break this one down.
Let’s start with Winston, whose redemption tour began in fine fashion. After replacing Fitzpatrick early in the third quarter he engineered four straight scoring drives to give the Bucs hope in a game in which all hope seemed lost.
It wasn’t always pretty. Winston got lucky when Mike Evans fell on his fumble in the end zone at the end of his first drive and got lucky a couple more times when the butterfingered Giants couldn’t hold on to a couple of tipped passes.
But Winston was more good than bad and was at times spectacular in completing 12 of 15 passes for 199 yards and two touchdown tosses before a last-ditch throw wound up in the Giants hands with 13 seconds left.
Not only that, but the return of Winston to the lineup Sunday seemed to bring a sense of normalcy to this team, a feeling that this is how it’s supposed to be, how it was supposed to be all along.
Like Winston a few weeks ago, Fitzpatrick more than earned his place on the bench. His three picks Sunday gave him seven in the three games he started ahead of Winston and they came at critical junctures.
The first came on a throw from his own 30-yard line, which means it wiped out a scoring chance. The second was a pick-six and the third was simply thrown up for grabs at a point when the Bucs still had time to rally.
Oh, and let’s not forget that the Bucs caught a break when the Giants didn’t challenge a would-be Fitzpatrick fumble on second-and-11 from the Giants 15 early in the game.
At the end of the day, Fitzpatrick’s giveaways led to 10 points for the Giants, and the Bucs wound up losing by three. It’s easy to say then that without those picks, the Bucs could have easily won.
The defense never had a chance in this one. Before the game even started, the Bucs were without linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, safeties Justin Evans and Chris Conte, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and defensive lineman Vinny Curry.
That’s more than half this team’s projected starters on that side of the ball, and nowhere are the Bucs thinner than on defense, where they just don’t have enough quality depth, particularly in the secondary.
Throw on top of that the fact that the Bucs spent the bulk of the first half blowing their gap assignments in the running game and it’s no wonder they spent the day playing catchup.
They mostly struggled to stop Barkley, who ran 27 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns, but they were equally ineffective against quarterback Eli Manning, who matched a career-best start by completing each of his first 11 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
For one week at least, the kicker wasn’t an issue. Cairo Santos, who was brought in this week to replace Chandler Catanazaro, who was finally fired after missing two more field goal tries last week, five for five on PATs. He did not attempt a field goal.
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