Dirk Koetter probably has to pick Ryan Fitzpatrick as his quarterback next week, and that will make Fitzpatrick the quarterback for the foreseeable future. If he makes that move, Koetter might be ensuring he won’t keep his job.
Sunday was the worst-case scenario for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They gave the starting quarterback job back to Jameis Winston after their Week 5 bye, and that was the rational move. Winston was the potential franchise quarterback. Fitzpatrick is a 35-year-old journeyman who runs hot and cold. Tampa Bay had to figure out what Winston could be.
Winston blew it. He threw four interceptions in less than three quarters on Sunday in a 37-34 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, and each one was a different brand of bad – an overthrow into the end zone when he had an easy pass underneath, a mysterious throw to the middle of the field to nobody, a horribly inaccurate pass, and a telegraphed pick-six. It summed up Winston’s NFL career to date. He has played well at times. But it appears he’ll never eliminate the few plays a game that kill his team, which is what happened in a three-point loss on Sunday.
Fitzpatrick came in and, as Fitzpatrick can be for stretches, was fantastic. He threw for 194 yards in a little more than a quarter and rallied the Buccaneers from an 18-point deficit that Winston created to tie the game with about a minute to go. Given how well Fitzpatrick played earlier this season when Winston was suspended, it seems like a good bet that the Buccaneers will give him the starting job again, though Koetter refused to reveal his decision after the game.
And if Fitzpatrick gets the job back, that probably is the first step for a full rebuild in Tampa Bay.
General manager Jason Licht is in his fifth season and the Bucs’ record in that time is 25-46. Koetter’s mark is 17-22 in three seasons. There’s not much reason to retain them, especially if Winston is marked off as a failure. Licht picked him. Koetter was charged with developing him. Winston is still the same flawed quarterback, capable of good plays but incapable of avoiding back-breaking turnovers. It’s hard to believe, after 49 games for Winston, he’s going to change much. Winston has the most multiple-interception games since he entered the NFL in 2015, according to Thomas Bassinger of the Tampa Bay Times. Winston has 16 games with two or more picks. Blake Bortles is second with 15. Of course Winston’s off-field issues, which haven’t endeared him to anyone, are part of the team’s decision about his future.
It’s fairly easy in the NFL to replace a losing general manager and a coach. It’s not so easy to swap out a quarterback you invested the first overall pick and four seasons into. There’s the rub.
On the surface it seems crazy to believe the Buccaneers would pay the mistake-prone Winston a huge contract extension. But teams make some of their worst decisions when it comes to mediocre quarterbacks. It’s not easy to start over at quarterback in the NFL, especially with a thin quarterback draft class coming in 2019. If the Buccaneers decide to cut ties with Winston, whose 2019 fifth-year option is $20.9 million but not guaranteed unless there’s an injury, what then? Live with the ups and downs of the aging Fitzpatrick (who, by the way, is on just a one-year deal)? Pray you can develop the next quarterback you draft? Hope to pay a fortune to someone like Teddy Bridgewater in free agency? Trade for another flawed quarterback like Derek Carr? There’s no good answer, and it’s worth noting that Licht and Koetter probably know what’s going to happen to them if the Buccaneers decide to phase Winston out over the rest of this season and Fitzpatrick doesn’t lead some miraculous turnaround.
That’s probably why Koetter didn’t announce next week’s starting quarterback right after the game. It’s a franchise-altering decision. It affects him too. But it seems clearer that the choice isn’t just about whether Winston or Fitzpatrick starts next week. It’s either living with Winston’s many mistakes for the next few years on a huge contract, or starting a painful and total rebuild. That’s why Sunday was worse for the Buccaneers than simply losing a game by a field goal on the final play. It was a harsh look at an uncertain future.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 8 of the NFL season:
Josh Rosen: Rosen and the Arizona Cardinals could have made it easier on themselves by showing signs of life before the fourth quarter, but it showed something about the rookie quarterback.
Rosen was 12-of-18 for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter of the Cardinals’ dramatic 18-15 win over the San Francisco 49ers. He hit fellow rookie Christian Kirk for the game-winning touchdown with 34 seconds left, capping a 75-yard drive. Rosen showed remarkable composure and made many big throws.
Rosen, the 10th pick of the draft, hasn’t been great since he took over the starting job, though he isn’t in the best situation for a rookie either. He has shown some promise, and Sunday’s fourth quarter was his best highlight yet.
Pete Carroll: No matter how many major personnel losses the Seahawks endured this offseason, Carroll has managed to keep his team rolling.
The Seahawks are back over .500 after a nice win at the Detroit Lions. Chris Carson ran for 105 yards, Russell Wilson was fantastic with a perfect 158.3 rating and the defense came up with some big plays. They were clearly the better team, and the Lions came in having won three of four.
While Carroll was part of a strange offseason in Seattle, it’s hard to argue with his coaching results. Seattle, which is 4-3, still plays the 49ers twice and the Cardinals once more. The schedule sets up well for them to stay in the playoff hunt. Given all the talent the Seahawks lost in the offseason, that’s a pretty good place for them to be. Give Carroll a lot of credit for that.
Derek Carr: You can’t pin Sunday’s Oakland Raiders loss on Carr.
The Raiders lost again, 42-28 to the Indianapolis Colts, but that was due to a collapsing defense and a big fourth-quarter fumble by Doug Martin (on a great play by Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard). Carr was the only reason the Raiders were in the game as long as they were.
Carr completed 21-of-28 passes for 244 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Carr ran for a 1-yard touchdown too. His fourth touchdown, staying alive in the face of the rush to find Brandon LaFell in the end zone, was fantastic. That gave the Raiders a 28-21 lead. Then the defense allowed 21 points in the fourth quarter.
It seems as if Carr won’t be traded by Tuesday’s deadline, but that doesn’t mean his long-term future is settled. Presumably Carr will get the rest of this season to impress Jon Gruden. He’ll be on more solid footing with more outings like Sunday.
James Conner, again: Forget about the rest of this season, as it relates to Conner. Whatever happens when Le’Veon Bell signs his franchise tender will happen.
But Conner is setting himself up nicely to perhaps get close to the payday Bell was chasing.
Bell’s Steelers career is likely over when this season ends, but the Steelers are set up pretty well for that because of Conner. Conner had another big game, rushing for 146 yards and two scores and getting another 66 yards receiving in a 33-18 win over the Cleveland Browns. Assuming nothing crazy happens before the start of next season, Conner will go into next season as one of the NFL’s top running backs. He has established himself in the Steelers’ future with his play in Bell’s absence.
We might end up with a Bell-esque round of contract drama down the road with Conner, but that’s for another day too. What we’ve seen during Bell’s holdout is that the Steelers won’t lose too much when the All-Pro signs somewhere else.
Vance Joseph and the Denver Broncos not on the trade block: With all of the leaks coming out of Denver about all of the players who might be traded before Tuesday’s deadline, the situation Sunday seemed clear. The Broncos had to pull off a huge upset at Kansas City or big changes would be made.
The Broncos played hard, but the upset didn’t happen. Denver lost 30-23. Kansas City isn’t going to lose often this season, and maybe never at home. The Broncos are now 3-5. You have to wonder which Broncos will be moved before their next game. Demaryius Thomas seems like the top candidate to be shipped off (though that might be a positive because it would get impressive rookie Courtland Sutton more playing time). Emmanuel Sanders and Chris Harris have been mentioned as trade possibilities. It would be a little surprising if Denver doesn’t make any trades.
This puts Joseph in an incredibly tough spot. His seat is still hot in Denver. Now that the Broncos are 3-5, that could lead to personnel moves to help for the future. And Joseph will have to take what’s left and try to secure his long-term future before the season is done.
Green Bay Packers’ playoff chances: We knew before the season started that some good NFC teams would be left out of the playoffs. The Packers might end up topping that list.
The Packers played their best game of the season on Sunday but still lost. They had a 10-point lead on the Rams, and led in the fourth quarter before the Rams came back to win. Green Bay needs more than moral victories. The Packers are 3-3-1 and unless they pull off an upset in New England next week, they’re going to be in a big hole. They still have road games at NFC playoff contenders like the Bears, Vikings and Seahawks remaining.
The Panthers, Bears, Seahawks, Redskins and Eagles all won on Sunday. Those teams could all end up being in the wild-card race. The Packers could put together a winning streak and take the NFC North or get a wild-card spot, but they haven’t often looked like the type of team that could get on that kind of a roll. Unless the Packers knock off the Patriots in a tough road game next Sunday night, they will be facing a very difficult task in the second half of the season.
Father time, as it pertains to Adrian Peterson: Comeback player of the year means different things to different voters, but Peterson will have a chance to win it for a second time.
Peterson’s season is unbelievable. Peterson, who is 33 years old, was free for anyone to sign before the Washington Redskins grabbed him on Aug. 20. If rookie Derrius Guice didn’t tear his ACL in the preseason, maybe Peterson never would have signed with a team. But Peterson has had a special first half of this season. He had 149 rushing yards including a 64-yard touchdown in Washington’s 20-13 win over the Giants. Washington is 5-2 and Peterson has transformed the identity of their offense.
Peterson looked done last season with the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals. He had a couple big games with Arizona, but that seemed like his last hurrah. It seemed for most of the summer like his five-year waiting period for the Hall of Fame had started. But he has 587 yards through seven games. That’s a pace for 1,342 yards. John Riggins had 1,347 yards at age 34 in 1983, and that’s the record for any back 33 or older. Only four backs have ever gained 1,000 yards past their 33rd birthday (Riggins and John Henry Johnson did it twice, and Frank Gore and Franco Harris did it once each). Instead of fading into retirement, Peterson is writing a very unexpected chapter to his historic career.
Ravens defense: The Ravens at one point looked like a dark horse Super Bowl contender because of their defense.
That isn’t the case after what we’ve seen the past two weeks. The Ravens blew a lead at home to the Saints in the fourth quarter, then got worked over by the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. The Panthers have a good offense with Cam Newton leading the way, but it’s not the type of offense that should post 36 points on a top-five defense. Maybe the Ravens don’t have that type of elite defense after all.
Baltimore looked pretty good early this season, other than a weird Thursday night performance in Week 2 against the Bengals. But that good start is mostly washed away with the Ravens sitting at 4-4, especially with the Steelers gaining momentum in the AFC North. The Ravens aren’t done of course, they just don’t look anymore like the potentially defensive-driven contender they appeared to be for a while.
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