TAMPA — This was a day everyone could see coming, but like a charging defensive lineman, it likely blindsided Jameis Winston and his sore shoulder.
After four weeks of watching Winston play with a sprained AC joint in his right arm that he injured in a loss to Arizona on Oct. 15, the Bucs decided to shut down their franchise quarterback for at least two weeks, with no guarantee it won’t be longer.
Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick will start against his former Jets team Sunday. Ryan Griffin will be recalled from injured reserve and be the No. 2 quarterback.
Doctors broke the news to Winston after another MRI exam on his shoulder Monday. He re-injured it when he was hit by Saints defensive end Alex Okafor just before halftime in the 30-10 loss at New Orleans on Sunday, the Bucs’ fifth in a row. Winston could not finish a game for the second time in a month. Now it’s reasonable to wonder if he is finished for the season.
"I think by the time I talked to him, it had probably sunk in a little bit," coach Dirk Koetter said. "Of course, Jameis is a tremendous competitor and he would try to play through anything."
That was always the concern, that Winston with his beaming persona was going to force himself onto the field until his arm fell off.
The Bucs would never allow him to play without medical clearance. But that shouldn’t be confused with the right decision.
Since Winston’s injury, the Bucs are 0-4 and have scored a combined nine points in the first half of all those games.
You can’t blame the Bucs for wanting to keep putting Winston under center, especially after his performance at Buffalo. Maybe it was adrenalin, or the fact he did not take a hit on that shoulder until late in the game, but Winston wound up passing for 384 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in a 30-27 loss.
But the fact that Winston has been injured for four of the Bucs’ five straight losses may not be a coincidence.
"Yup, I mean you could definitely draw that conclusion," Koetter said. "The problem with that is there’s no way to measure it. There’s no measurement for that. And because Jameis played so well the second half at Buffalo the first time, even though he came off a week where he didn’t practice until Friday, you think that could be duplicated as long as he’s medically cleared. Of course, his safety is first.
"I talked to Jameis about that earlier (Monday). We have been on this losing streak since Jameis was injured, at some point in there. But there’s no way to put a measurement on that. As you have asked in here, of course we would always want our starting quarterback, most starting quarterbacks in the NFL take every rep during the week with the first unit. So that hasn’t been ideal, but at the same time, at most positions in the NFL, if a guy is cleared medically to play, he’s going to play. And a quarterback is not an exception to that."
Koetter was deliberately vague when describing what the MRI of Winston’s shoulder revealed. When asked if Winston had any kind of ligament tear, Koetter would not elaborate.
"I’m not sure about that. Like I said, they feel like he needs to rest a couple weeks and that’s what’s going to happen," Koetter said. "They’re saying this is not structural but want to shut him down. I don’t want to say something I shouldn’t say."
What does this mean for the Bucs?
At 2-6, it’s a little bit of a white flag. The team knows that it is probably not going on a seven- or eight-game win streak regardless of who plays quarterback. If possible, it’s a chance to get Winston completely healthy and avoid some kind of surgery in the offseason that could linger into 2018.
What does it mean for Koetter? He will have to earn his money. But regardless of record, the fact is that the wheels came off about the time Winston got hurt. Now he will miss at least two games. That’s six games without the starting quarterback being healthy. That may be something the Glazers will consider when they do the autopsy on this season.
What does it mean for Winston? Well, it could mean a clean re-start. He needs one. Two images of Winston remain from Sunday’s game: his finger-licking pregame rant about eating W’s (which wasn’t all that different than his alphabet soup rant a year ago), and his poking Saints defensive back Marshon Lattimore, which led to receiver Mike Evans’ blindside hit and one-game suspension by the NFL.
You know Winston will do everything he can to get back on the field. And regardless of who ultimately pays the price for this disappointing season, the Bucs should do everything in their power to keep from putting him back on the field too soon.