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.
Bucs QB Winston in limbo with injured thumb
The Bucs are very much concerned and waiting to see the status of quarterback Jameis Winston injured thumb suffered in Sunday’s wild victory over the Colts.
And they have to be prepared to be without their starting quarterback this weekend in Detroit.
First, credit to Pewterreport.com which was at teammate Mike Evans’ charity bowling event Monday evening, and where the fifth year quarterback participated bowling left-handed with a brace seen on his right hand and thumb:
#Bucs QB Jameis Winston bowling at his teammate @MikeEvans13_ charity bowling event tonight in Tampa to raise money for Mike’s foundation. Winston was wearing a brace on his right hand, and bowled his left. pic.twitter.com/fsIAXIc9fc
— PewterReport (@PewterReport) December 10, 2019
Winston injured the thumb at some point late in the second quarter of the 38 – 35 victory over Indianapolis. Coach Bruce Arians relayed after the game that Winston came out for the second half warm up and couldn’t grip the ball, when he was trying to get ready for the third quarter.
He went inside for an x-ray and backup quarterback Ryan Griffin ran the team for the first series of the second half. Winston returned and threw for over 200 yards in the second half including the game-winning touchdown to Breshad Perriman in the final five minutes of the game.
After the game Arians revealed that Winston had what he described as “a slight, slight crack in the thumb” that showed up on the X-ray.
On Monday afternoon at his regular news conference, the Buccaneers coach said that it would be day by day evaluation, that Winston had swelling on the thumb and would be getting a second opinion from a specialist:
"We’re going to come, we’re going to work. We’re going to try to win four in a row, five in a row and then six in a row.”
➡️: HC Bruce Arians pic.twitter.com/XrdtIA2yQQ
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 9, 2019
The injury comes at a time of great debate about whether Winston will be kept on for the Buccaneers beyond this season.? He’s currently playing on the 5th year option of his rookie contract for $20 million.
As we wrote last week, Arians made it clear that the evaluation will begin after the season as to whether Winston will be back for 2020 and long-term.
The former number one overall pick is still leading the NFL in interceptions this season with 23, but he is also second in the NFL in touchdown passes and yardage. And, the Bucs have responded with three straight wins late in the year to keep their NFC wild-card hopes barely alive.
Tampa Bay had hoped use veteran Blaine Gabbert, if something happened to Winston, but Gabbert was hurt in the preseason with a separated left shoulder, placed on injured reserve and will not be able to be activated down the stretch of the season.
So that means if Winston cannot play, Griffin, a six year veteran who has played well in the last two preseasons, will be expected to get his first start Sunday.
Bucs-Winston overcome miscues to win third straight
It wasn’t easy and there were plenty of self-inflicted mistakes, but the Bucs found a way to come from behind, and defeat the Colts for a third consecutive victory Sunday.
Tampa Bay turned the ball over four times and found themselves trailing by double-figure twice, but QB Jameis Winston threw the go-ahead touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman with under four minutes to play and the Buccaneers defense held up to improve their record to 6 – 7.
On a day in which Winston threw for a career-high 456 yards, it actually started horribly This as, he threw an interception, once again, on the opening possession of the game. Darius Leonard’s pick led to a Jacoby Brissett 48 yard touchdown to Marcus Williams and a quick 7-0 lead. It was the third time in five games that Winston has thrown an int on the first Bucs drive.
Winston threw another interception later in the second quarter that was returned by Leonard 80 yards for a score and the Colts led 24-14.
Undaunted, Winston continued to gun-sling finishing 456 yards passing for a career-high yardage and four touchdowns, including a second half score to reserve receiver Justin Watson. And then, he threw the eventual game-winning 12 yarder to Perriman.
#Bucs take the lead!
Jameis connects with Breshad Perriman 🎯#INDvsTB
— PFF (@PFF) December 8, 2019
The Colts gave away two opportunities to potentially put the game away. First, when backup running back Nyheim Hines fumbled inside the Tampa Bay 20 with 10 minutes remaining, and then, later new rookie kicker Chase McLaughlin ,who replaced Adam Vinatieri who’s dealing with an injured knee, hit the right upright on 47 yard field goal that would have put in the Colts up by 7 late in the game.
Winston led the go-ahead drive from there, going 63 yards in eight plays and including converting a fourth down with a pass of 4 yards to Dare Ogunbawale. The touchdown to Perriman came on the very next play.
Tampa Bay stopped Brissett and the Colts on fourth down at midfiled with 1:45 remaining, when DE Jason Pierre Paul hit the QB’s arm. The ball fluttered in the air, Brissett caught it and then desperately and illegally tried to throw it a second time forward to another teammate. That pass was incomplete.
The Bucs ran out the clock for their second win at home this season.
The Buccaneers playoff hopes were all but dashed even in victory, though, as the Minnesota Vikings won their 9th game on Sunday. That means that even if the Buccaneers win out, they can no longer catch the Vikes in a head to head tiebreaker in the NFC race. Tampa Bay could benefit from a multi-team tie at 9-7, but likely not.
Still, first year Bruce Arians team is certainly playing hard, and at the right times with three games to go