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The magic has worn off. Time for the Bucs to start Jameis Winston

Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown for 400 yards in a Bucs-record three straight games. But columnist Tom Jones still thinks it's time for him to return to the backup job. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published Sep. 25, 2018
Updated Sep. 25, 2018

TAMPA — So this will be a fun and interesting week over at One Buc Place.

Who's the quarterback?

That question will be asked a few times. The likely answer will end up being Ryan Fitzpatrick.

But this question will be asked a few dozen times:

Who should be the quarterback?

The answer to that? Jameis Winston should be the starting quarterback when the Bucs visit Chicago next Sunday.

That might seem unfair to Fitzpatrick, but football isn't fair. In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, Fitzpatrick didn't do enough in Monday night's 30-27 loss to the Steelers.

Oh, he did plenty of things well. He threw for more than 400 yards for the third straight game. He tossed three touchdowns, giving him 11 for the season. That's outstanding.

And, he nearly pulled off a remarkable second-half comeback.

Then again, the reason the Bucs trailed 30-10 at halftime was, in part, due to three Fitzpatrick interceptions.

"I'm happy with the way the first two games went,'' Fitzpatrick said after Monday night's game. "I'm not happy with the way I turned the ball over (Monday) and the way I didn't finish (the comeback). So there are a lot of things I think I could have done better (Monday).''

Is one so-so game enough to lose a job? In this case, yeah.

That's not an easy thing to say because Fitzpatrick is a good guy and has been playing his guts out. The Bucs are off to a heck of a start and Fitzpatrick deserves much of the credit for that.

But we're not talking about Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger or Drew Brees here. Those guys are future Hall of Famers and, thus, have earned the right to have a clunker game now and again.

Fitzpatrick simply hasn't built up that kind of equity. He's a journeyman who has been up and down his whole career. You can't help but be skeptical of his chances to keep playing well. It already feels like you got more out of him that you could have possibly hoped for. So why ride things out with what has proven to be a mediocre quarterback when you have a quarterback like Winston available to play?

Look, I'm not the biggest Winston fan, and I'm not even talking about his off-field issues. On the field, he has been inconsistent enough to question whether or not he ever will become a franchise quarterback. He still makes too many bone-headed decisions and he has been around long enough that you can't chalk those mistakes up to youth.

Nevertheless, he still gives you a better chance to win on any given Sunday than Fitzpatrick. And, really, isn't that what this is about? Isn't that the only thing that matters?

Which quarterback gives you the best chance to win? Who is the better QB? The answer: Winston.

And, you have to factor in that the Bucs still need to make a decision about Winston's long-term future in Tampa Bay.

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, as you would expect, was non-committal after Monday night's game. But when he suggested that Winston would be happy with any role he was asked to play, you figured he was laying the ground work for Fitzpatrick to start against the Bears.

And honestly, it would be really hard to second-guess Koetter if he decides to stay with Fitzpatrick.

But on Monday night, the magic started to wear off. At times, it was more like FitzTragic. At one point in the second quarter, Fitzpatrick threw interceptions on three consecutive passes.

To be fair, not everything that went wrong Monday night was Fitzpatrick's fault. He was under constant duress. It's hard to find open receivers when you're running for your life.

His normally sure-handed receivers dropped some perfectly-thrown passes. And, Fitzpatrick had nothing to do with a defense that had trouble stopping the Steelers when it really mattered.

But clearly Fitzpatrick, while giving it everything he had, wasn't at the same level he was during the first two weeks and, if you're looking a reason to turn to Winston, that would be a good one.

If the Bucs chose to make the switch, it's not like they would be kicking Fitzpatrick to the curb. You thank him for going 2-1 in Winston's absence and gladly go back to him if the need arises. As far as back-ups go, the Bucs are in pretty good shape with Fitzpatrick.

But, ultimately, that's what Fitzpatrick is. A back-up. His whole career has been what we've seen in three weeks. Lots of good. Some bad. He is fully capable of playing lights-out for short spells and, unfortunately, fully capable of throwing some ill-advised wounded ducks that turn into interceptions as happened Monday.

None was uglier or more costly than when Fitzpatrick, standing in his own end zone, overthrew Jacquizz Rodgers on a screen pass and it was turned into an easy 10-yard pick-six in the second quarter. As soon as Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree crossed the goal line, someone on the Bucs should have (quietly and secretly, of course) texted Winston with four words:

"Be ready next Sunday.''

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones

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