Bucs haven’t confirmed it, but Ryan Fitzpatrick should start against Bears in Week 4

September 26, 2018

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter wasn’t ready to confirm Monday night in the aftermath of his club’s first loss, 30-27 at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers, that the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400-plus passing yards in three consecutive games will start in Week 4 against the Bears.

So we’ll do it for Koetter: Fitzmagic will be in the air Sunday at Soldier Field despite the Bucs’ regular starter, Jameis Winston, returning today from his three-game suspension for groping an Uber driver. It’s the only real decision Koetter can make after Ryan Fitzpatrick led his team to a surprising 2-1 start while doing something no quarterback in NFL history had done before him.

Fitzpatrick threw three second-quarter interceptions contributing to Tampa Bay trailing 30-10 at halftime Monday. But the first one was tipped at the line of scrimmage, and Fitzpatrick also threw three touchdowns — he should’ve had at least one more — among his 411 passing yards on the heels of compiling 402 and 411, with 10 total touchdowns and only one interception, during a 2-0 start to the season.

Did Koetter get a glimpse of Fitzpatrick morphing back into the career journeyman we all know and love? Of course. But he also saw a gutsy second-half performance with plenty of the big-strike plays that has defined Tampa’s offense in the early going and a team rallying around its limited backup who probably has no business playing this well. The Bucs had a chance to beat the Steelers despite four turnovers and an awful defensive performance, largely because of Fitzpatrick’s willingness to stand in the pocket in the second half under constant duress and give his playmakers chances to make plays.

Fitzpatrick missed three times consecutively on the decisive drive, too, but who’s to say the nothing if not inconsistent Winston would’ve done better in that spot, never mind willed the Bucs to that spot in the first place?

Remember, Winston was entering a make-or-break season — even before his suspension — in the final year of his deal (the Bucs picked up his fifth-year 2019 option, but it’s guaranteed only for injury). Winston has also shown the same penchant for giveaways as Fitzpatrick, just not the same kind of leadership. In 45 games, Winston has tossed at least three interceptions five times — or once every nine starts. Fitzpatrick has 15 games with at least three interceptions — or one every 8.1 starts.

“Let’s see what happens,” Koetter said. “I’d love to get a chance to talk to Jameis face-to-face before I tell the rest of the world.

″ ... We love Jameis. He’s a member of our team and anxious to get back. He’ll be great in our locker room. And I know Jameis — in whatever role he ends up in — I know Jameis will embrace that role and give it everything he’s got.”

It says here Winston should embrace the role of Week 4 backup. And he should stay warm in the pen because the nasty Bears ‘D’ leads the NFL in sack percentage and is third in INT percentage. The bottom ultimately will fall out on Fitzpatrick, and Winston will still get one last chance to show he’s the franchise guy who can maximize such an exciting group of weapons. But Koetter won’t pull the magic carpet out from underneath Fitzpatrick first.

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