TAMPA — Two weeks ago Dirk Koetter was asked about how Doug Martin was running, despite his less-than 3-yards-per-carry average. The Bucs' coach pounced on the subject like a loose football.
"Hard. He's been running hard," Koetter said Dec. 12. "When I see that stat about 2-point-something rushing average or whatever it is, I say, 'Man, that 2-yard run he made in San Diego, I sure like that one,' and that was a 1-yard run, I think, (against the Saints) and he broke about 10 tackles to get 1 yard, but it was our only touchdown of the game.
"Doug's running hard. We've got to give him more. We've got to give him more lanes. He was running into some rough looks, some unblocked guys, and there's nothing wrong with Doug Martin. People are complaining about Doug Martin; there's nothing wrong with Doug Martin. We've got to play better around him."
Flash forward to last Friday, when Martin was informed he would be inactive for Saturday's game at New Orleans.
Koetter offered no real explanation, aside from saying the Bucs could dress only four running backs, which was the case Dec. 18 at Dallas when Jacquizz Rodgers was inactive.
"Coach's decision," Koetter said after the 31-24 loss Saturday to the Saints. "You know, we've got four backs, and we can't give them all touches. So, like we sat 'Quizz' a week ago. But (Charles) Sims and Peyton Barber are a lot more involved in special teams. So we really only have room for one primary ball carrier right now, so I felt like it was better for us this game to go with Quizz."
How much did Martin's lack of production factor into Koetter's decision?
"I'm not going to get into any of that," Koetter said. "We're blessed at running back. This was a decision for (Saturday). It is what is it for (Saturday), and we'll see what we have to deal with what comes next."
What comes next doesn't seem too promising for Tampa Bay and Martin.
The two-time Pro Bowl running back handled the embarrassing sleight professionally.
"Yeah, I'd love to be out there," Martin said after the game. "I'd love to be out there with my guys. But like I said, it was a coach's decision."
It took a lot of players by surprise.
"I found out before the game about it like everyone else," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "Of course I wanted him out there. I don't have anything to say on that."
The inability to develop a consistent running game has cost the Bucs this season. Rodgers rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries Saturday, a robust 4.2-yards-per-carry average.
Some of this is on the offensive line. Some of it is on Martin, who hasn't seemed to have the same explosion after missing six games with a hamstring injury.
Koetter and Koetter alone made the call to make Martin inactive. But the Bucs' front office supported it. That general manager Jason Licht's focus last offseason was on re-signing Martin to a five-year, $35.75 million contract with $15 million guaranteed is curious. And you have to believe this could create a schism in the locker room.
Martin is a prideful player. You don't see many stars like this in the NFL being asked to stand on the sideline and watch someone else do their job when they are healthy.
Because Rodgers is a free agent at the end of the season and Sunday's finale at home against the Panthers almost certainly won't factor into the postseason, my guess is Martin will be active.
If he's not, despite a salary cap hit the Bucs might absorb, Martin might not be with them in 2017. Stay tuned.