Ryan Fitzpatrick will make his fifth start of the season against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. While it makes sense in the short run, it may not be the best decision when looking at the big picture.
But let me start off by making things clear: Winston has been terrible in 2018. He deserved to ride the bench against Cincinnati on Sunday. It is completely understandable if the majority of fans and the general public are ready to see his exodus from Tampa Bay.
His off-the-field behavior has already put his back against the wall. Now, his on-field play is putting him in his grave (career-wise).
Sunday’s performance was by far and large the worst of Winston’s short career. Each interception he threw was the result of a bad decision - his bad decision(s) - and each one cost his team a potential road win.
Winston’s turnovers have been plentiful since entering the league in 2015. He has thrown the second-most interceptions, just one behind Blake Bortles. What makes that statistic all the more worrisome is that he is just 15th in passing touchdowns. Andy Dalton, Eli Manning, Derek Carr, and even Bortles have thrown more touchdowns than Winston.
2017 saw a career-low 11 interceptions and an effective, turnover-free preseason created the appearance - or illusion - that Winston had perhaps tamed, maybe even overcame, his demons.
Since his return, turnovers have defined Winston’s game to the tune of 12 total giveaways in just 14 quarters of play, including the overtime period against the Browns.
He has thrown four picks in three games during his career, including the Bengals game. The Bucs are 0-3 in those games and are 3-13 when he throws two or more interceptions.
After four years, the excuses have run out. He hit rock bottom on Sunday and only he can get himself back up.
When considering the big picture, there is still a future for the former Florida State Seminole. Interceptions and turnovers are a part of the game, they come naturally for quarterbacks due to the fact that the ball is in their hands every play. Since 1955, five Hall of Fame quarterbacks are in the top-10 when it comes to career interceptions, with a sixth one in Peyton Manning coming up in a few years.
Some of it is mechanics, but most of it has been poor decision-making and that was on full display in Cincinnati. Right now, Jameis Winston is the only one that can save his own career.
During the postgame press conference, it was clear that Winston knew what is currently at stake. He knew he made bad decisions that cost his team the game and even admitted to it.
“I can’t play like that. I was heaving balls all over the place and not giving our team a chance to win.” Winston told reporters after the game. He also gave way to the fact that despite seeing linebacker Jesse Bates in his throwing lane, he still threw the ball and the result was a pick-six for the Bengals.
But what’s key in all of this is that the worst interceptions have come at the expense of his worst decisions.
The good news accompanied with that statement is simple: it can be fixed.
It seems to me - and this is pure speculation - that he is out to prove the world wrong for his own personal gain, not for his team. I’m not saying that he is a selfish player, I just think that he believes his personal play is the cure to his woes when in reality, team success and winning is what will silence the critics.
I don’t think you bench Winston for the long-term just yet. He still gives this team the best shot to win. For all of the good that Fitzpatrick has brought to this team in 2018, Winston can still do better if he gets his head on right.
This is purely a subjective call, as the numbers do not support my case whatsoever.
Bucs QBs Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick have a difference of only four pass attempts this season. Comparing their stats:— Greg Auman (@gregauman) October 29, 2018
Winston: 148 passes, 1,181 yards, 64.9%, 6 TDs, 10 INTs
Fitzpatrick: 144 passes, 1,550 yards, 68.1%, 13 TDs, 5 INTs
And obviously, head coach Dirk Koetter doesn’t agree after naming Fitzpatrick the starter this week against Carolina. Koetter is trying to win now in order to save his job, so the move makes sense.
It doesn’t come without risk, though.
What if Fitzpatrick comes out and throws multiple interceptions against a very good Carolina front seven? Do you bring Winston back in at that point? What type of message would that move send to the team? It’s not like Fitzpatrick hasn’t had a propensity to throw interceptions.
A see-saw at quarterback would certainly end Koetters’ tenure early. Every quarterback has bad games. Just look at Fitzpatrick. There is no way that he would still be around if every quarterback was held to this standard.
Is Winston a transcendent, franchise quarterback like was originally thought when he was drafted number one overall? The answer is a very likely “no”, but he can at least be the best option for a team fighting to win games.
What happens from here on out will define Winston’s career. It’s unfortunate news for a player with his accolades. The ultimate goal is for championships to define a player’s career, not poor play.
Time has run out for Winston, but the clock isn’t broken. It will be up to him to figure out how to get it back up and running again.