Sometimes it all boils down to one simple thing. And, in this case with the struggling Buccaneers and their franchise quarterback repeatedly throwing interceptions and with a veteran quarterback in the wings who’s already proven that he can lead the offense to great things, the decision to go with Ryan Fitzpatrick came down to one simple thing.
Third year coach Dirk Koetter made the decision, a seemingly easy and obvious one, based on the only thing that matters for him to keep his job and that’s that the Bucs have to start winning games, again.
They started 2-0 and are now, 3-4.
Something had to be done.
Tune in to HC Dirk Koetter's day-after-game press conference. https://t.co/e5XokOhFoK
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) October 29, 2018
Anyone that saw Sundays 37 – 34 tough loss to the Bengals knew that this was a virtual certainty.
Fourth-year quarterback Jameis Winston played another awful game, which have been too frequent over the last two seasons. By the time Winston had thrown his fourth interception, which was returned for a touchdown late in the third quarter, the Bucs were trailing 34 – 16.
And Koetter went to the 14-year veteran at Fitzpatrick, who immediately ignited the offense throwing for 194 yards, two touchdowns and three scoring drives that got the game tied with a minute to go.
When Koetter said that it was a decision “based on not turning the ball over,” he was correct.
But, it’s bigger than that with Winston and everyone knows it.
Yes he was injured for part or all of 5 Games in 2017, but Winston’s record in the games that he started was 3-10. You couple that with losing 2 of the last three games in 2016 as the Bucs failed to make the playoffs, and Winston’s record coming into this year in his last 16 games started was 4-12.
Upon being reinstated as the starter after NFL suspension, Winston was unable to rally the Bucs in the Falcons game two weeks ago, throwing two interceptions in that one also. And even though the Bucs got by the Browns, Winston had a critical interception in the overtime in his own territory that could have spelled defeat against Cleveland.
So even though that was a win, it led to Sunday and a game where Winston threw two first-half interceptions as the Bucs fell behind 21 – 0. Kotter mentioned to the media post game Sunday that he had contemplated pulling Winston for Fitzpatrick, then. Again, that’s a coach looking to win and desperately trying to accumulate them to hang onto his job.
So, Winston is now 5-14 in his last 19 starts. and by the way, through Sunday, Winston has played in 14 quarters in 2018 and has 11 turnovers. That’s brutal for an offense and the morale of the team.
So, as we well documented, Tampa Bay and the Glazer family that owns the team, are now in a difficult place with Winston in terms of the future. If they risk playing Winston from here on out and an injury were to occur that would keep him from being able to pass a physical by March, the team would be on the hook for his fifth year rookie contract option- guaranteed at $21 million.
So, this week in Charlotte, Fitzpatrick will try to do what he did in the two starts at the beginning of the year against the Saints and the Eagles And, that’s reignite the Bucs offense from the beginning of the game and lead them to a win that would level their record at 4 – 4.
Fitzpatrick was 2-1 as the Bucs starter last year, and is now 4-1 in his Tampa Bay career.
Realistically, if the Bucs want to make the playoffs they’re going to have to end up with at least 9 and maybe 10 victories. To do that, they’re going to have to win at least six and maybe seven of their remaining nine games.
It isn’t easy, in the NFL and neither was the decision Monday to put the former number one pick on the bench because of poor play.
However, the Bucs want to win, and you can’t argue that starting and going with Fitzpatrick gives them the better chance to do it in the short-term.
Bucs defense dramatic stand saved night in Charlotte
So much has been made of first-year Bucs coach Bruce Arians’ offensive mindset, starting quarterback Jameis Winston’s arm talent and the weapons around them carrying the team, but Thursday night it was the Buccaneers defense that showed up big, as in the end, with the game on the line in the final two minutes, they save the day with a fourth-down heroic play.
Former first-round pick , DB Vernon Hargreaves, came up with a key one-on-one tackle on Carolina star RB Christian McCaffrey (above) on fourth down at the Tampa Bay one-yard line to keep the Panthers from getting a first down. And, it gave the Bucs the ball back to run out the clock and secure a much needed 20 – 14 win.
Hargreaves’ individual effort epitomized the Buccaneers solid defensive play all night in Charlotte, as they did not allow Carolina to score a touchdown and held them to only three points on offense the entire second half. .
As for the aforementioned Winston and his support on the other side of the ball, they supplied enough, including Peyton Barber running tough for 82 yards on 23 carries and a crucial third-quarter 16 yard touchdown run the gave Tampa Bay the lead for good at 17 – 12.
Winston finished 16-25 for 208 yards, including a first-half touchdown pass to third year receiver Chris Godwin. Godwin is quickly becoming Winston’s new favorite target, as he hauled in eight catches for 121 yards and the score.
Meanwhile, Panthers Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton had an off game, as well. Even though he threw for 300 yards, he still had 26 incompletions on 50 attempts and Carolina repeatedly had one drive after another fizzle out in Bucs territory.
Newton was also battered by Tampa Bay’s rush, as new DE Shaq Barrett had three sacks, and the Bucs front seven repeatedly hit and knocked him down. Another key moment came near midfield in the third, when Newton was stripped of the ball for a lost fumble. And, another new Buc, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, fell on it.
And, to top it all off, McCaffery could mount very little offense Thursday night, either. A week after amassing over 200 yards from scrimmage against the Rams, he was held to 16 carries for only 37 yards and just two catches for just more 16 yards.
As for the key stop of McCaffery to preserve victory, Hargreaves said after the game late Thursday,
“It looked like it was going to be the Philly special from the Super Bowl. A reverse pass. When Cam walked up to the line of scrimmage, that’s what I thought it was going to be. As the play developed, McCaffrey faked it and he came right to me. I just stayed at home and he came right to me. I just had to make the play.”
A play that has Tampa Bay sitting 1-1 after a tough divisional win.
Three things to watch as Bucs take on Panthers Thursday night
It’s an NFC South showdown, where the loser knows they’re already off to an 0 – 2 start after Thursday night. And, the Bucs know that one of their former teammates is ready to help put them there.
With that in mind, here are three things to watch his Tampa Bay travels to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers:
McCoy goes against his old team
For the first time in his 10-year career Gerald McCoy has a new place to call home, and will play his second game with the Panthers tonight against the team that drafted him third overall in 2010, and he went to six Pro bowls for over the course of the last nine seasons. McCoy (above) was unceremoniously shown the door for salary cap reasons earlier this offseason and signed a one-year deal with the division rival Carolina.
McCoy did little of consequence in the opening loss to the Rams last week, but the Bucs have had a history previously, of players leaving them and succeeding elsewhere. We’ll find out if he starts making an impact tonight against Jameis Winston & Company.
Cut down the mistakes.
If the Bucs weren’t busy turning the ball over, which they did four times, including three Winston interceptions last week, they were committing penalties and having blown assignments on their offensive line.
Throw in: Tampa Bay cost themselves three different times with penalties on third down on defense that kept 49er drives alive, and you can see why head coach Bruce Arians has been stressing for the last few days that those kind of mistakes cannot be overcome.
The Buccaneers will have their hands full with a road environment against a division rival as it is, but as Arians said, if it’s “the Bucs beating the Bucs,” they won’t stand much chance anyway.
Clearly Cam Newton is still trying to get back to full health with a surgically-repaired throwing shoulder and an injured foot and everyone now realizes the biggest key to get the Panthers going is running back, Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey had over a hundred yards from scrimmage in the opening loss to L.A. last week and had likewise over a hundred yards combined catching and running a football in both games last year against the Buccaneers.
Look for Tampa Bay to try to shadow him with Pro Bowl linebacker Lavonte David and rookie linebacker and former number 1 pick out of LSU, Devin White. Those two will be heavily counted on to neutralize the guy that has become the Panthers best offensive weapon.
If they do, it will go a long way towards helping the Buccs win their first game of the season.
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