TAMPA ó Of course you play him.
There are people who think the Bucs should sit Jameis Winston, healthy or no, beginning Sunday at Green Bay, and shut him down for the rest of this lost season.
Do they have cheese for brains?
Ryan Fitzpatrick did a fine job.
Winston is the starting quarterback.
He needs the work. Oh, does he need the work. He needs to get better. He needs wins. The only way those things happen is for him to play games, see more defenses, make more decisions, good or bad.
I didnít completely understand everything Winston said Thursday in his first media session since early last month, since his finger-licking game at New Orleans.
He said he respected the process as the NFL investigates allegations he groped an Uber driver and he didnít fear a suspension.
"I have no fear at all," Winston said.
He said, "Iíve been vindicated several times on those past situations (a sexual assault allegation when he was at FSU), so my statements on those accusations stand firm, too."
Winston was asked about getting back on the field.
"I mean, this is my job," he said. "That is what God blessed me (with), to be able to play quarterback. When I am able to play, itís not even in my mind about saving. There is nothing to save."
There is nothing to save.
Winston has already missed three games because of a shoulder injury. He might miss more games if he is suspended by the league next season. So, letís sit him for five games to end this season?
Youíre a professional football player. Do your job. Would the Bucs be shutting down a healthy Gerald McCoy or Lavonte David or Mike Evans?
Winston has been cleared medically. Coach Dirk Koetter canít operate out of fear, worrying about Winston being injured behind an offensive line that just lost Demar Dotson and Ali Marpet.
I mean, weíre not talking about Pro Bowlers here. Dotson and Marpet are simply the guys who are better than the guys replacing them. Those backups are paid, too. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken said, "Itís not as if we called somebody off the street from the IHOP and said, ĎHey, why donít you come play tackle for us?í "
But, if this doesnít work, standby at the pancake house.
You play Jameis even though that old plow horse just went 2-1 as starter. The Bucsí offense looked a lot calmer under Fitz. Everyone seemed to know what they were supposed to do, no one was scrambling around, no frantic QB arm waving.
Winston canít replicate Fitzís experience, but one can only hope he watched Fitz go about his Fitzing just the same.
The starting quarterback has something to prove. He needs to be more efficient. He needs to cut down on his mistakes and resist the gnawing temptation to make every play himself. He needs to chill on the pregame. Will he ever learn?
Above all, he needs to play.
Okay, maybe there is a fear factor here, namely that Koetter and GM Jason Licht need to save their jobs, and only wins will do that. If the Bucs lose out, or come close to it, itís over.
You play Jameis regardless. Maybe if Winston was 32 and with only X number of games left in his body, or if he was an established talent who couldnít get any better, Iíd consider shutting him down. Probably not.
Itís his job.
Winston isnít a novice. Isnít the third year supposed to be the great leap forward? Maybe heís just a home-run hitter who strikes out too often. This is a referendum on him, whether he realizes it or not.
Hey, maybe Winston and the Bucs will get all excited (well, not too excited, Jameis) about playing at Lambeau Field, the NFLís answer to Wrigley and Fenway. By the way, this might be the Bucsí best shot at victory the rest of the way.
It might be fun for Bucs fans, too, though the sight of an injured Aaron Rodgers on the Packersí sideline might provoke a dizzying case of hindsight, namely: What if the Bucs had drafted Rodgers in 2005 instead of Cadillac Williams? Would that have irrevocably changed Bucs history for the better? There are air sickness bags in the seat pouch in front of you.
Jameis Winston is the starting quarterback. Itís his job. Until it isnít.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029
Bucs at Packers, 1 Sunday, Green Bay, Wis.
TV/radio: Fox, 97.9 FM
Line/OU: Packers by 2; 45