There are game planning advantages for Tampa Bay in keeping its starting quarterback a secret leading up to Sunday’s game at Chicago – for as long as that lasts, anyway.
But if I’m Dirk Koetter, I’m making a stand right now with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
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When you look at it, just from a numbers standpoint, nobody in the history of the NFL has thrown for 400 yards three games in a row. That alone is epic. It’s hard to pull a guy who has done that. But on top of that, if you’re part of the Buccaneers’ organization, you’ve probably felt like you had some talented players on the offensive side of the ball, and they’re starting to finally maximize their potential.
From my standpoint, it’s very difficult to put Jameis Winston back in there. Ryan is playing the best football that he has played and then his experience and the comfort level that he gives that coaching staff on a day-to-day basis is important. He can get in trouble with some of his throws, but I think he’s just being aggressive, and he’s giving those guys a chance.
If you’re DeSean Jackson or Mike Evans or O.J. Howard, you have to love that. You have to love that Fitzpatrick is giving you opportunities and that he’s pushing the ball down the field.
It’s fun to watch. It’s exciting. You find yourself pulling for him.
I played against Fitzpatrick back in 2005 when he was a rookie with the Rams. It’s in Houston and we’re up 21-0 in the first half. Marc Bulger was out and Jamie Martin gets hurt and Fitzpatrick comes rolling in there, his first NFL game, and he throws three touchdown passes including one in overtime to beat us and Fitz Magic was born.
That was 13 years ago. He has had that ability forever. He’s just fearless out there. You want to keep that as much as you can and let him play with that confidence, especially with those guys that he’s throwing the football to.
The hard part is having to negotiate the fact that you now have your first-round pick, your franchise quarterback, back in the locker room.
Winston is an exciting personality, and I’m sure there are going to be a group of guys in that locker room who are always going to be pro-Jameis. Now you have him standing there on the sidelines and if Fitzpatrick goes out and has a first half like he had on Monday night against the Steelers and struggles a little bit, you’re going to have to deal with the noise.
Koetter has to make a firm statement soon to the effect: “Ryan got us off to a great start and we’re going to roll with him. Ryan Fitzpatrick is our quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers going forward this year. If there are injuries or something happens, Jameis will go in and he’ll do what we know he can do.”
I think that’s the only way you can move forward. If you don’t do that, then you’re going to have, “Who is going to star this week? Who is going to start next week?” You don’t want that. It’s going to be a distraction to your team.
Do that, and Tampa Bay might have a team that can compete.
It’s all about matchups in the NFL and you have guys who are starting to make plays at the three levels of defense: Jackson can take the top off the coverage, and Fitzpatrick obviously has developed a good relationship with him and trusts him down the field.
Evans can do everything. He’s the physical guy, the big receiver you can throw the football to any time the defense singles him up.
And now Howard is developing into a guy you can throw the football to and he’s a matchup guy because there are not a lot of linebackers who can physically stick with him. He runs well. He catches the ball. He runs after the catch well. He blocks well.
The Bucs don’t really have a weakness in the passing game.
The offensive line, maybe. They’re not top 10 in the league, but Fitzpatrick, the thing I noticed about him on Monday night, he made some incredible throws with guys right in his face, hands up in his face, across his chest while he’s throwing the ball sidearm and finding ways to change his arm angle and make some pretty good throws under pressure.
It’s not just statistically that he has played at his best these first couple weeks. Just from an eye test, he makes throws that guys don’t consistently make. He’s playing with a lot of confidence.
I don’t know how you pull him.
David Carr answers your questions
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