Winston or Fitzpatrick? Reading between the lines in the Bucs locker room

Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter has a big decision to make at quarterback before Tampa Bay travels to Chicago for a Sept. 30 game at Soldier Field. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter has a big decision to make at quarterback before Tampa Bay travels to Chicago for a Sept. 30 game at Soldier Field. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Sept. 25, 2018|Updated Sept. 25, 2018

TAMPA — At some point Tuesday morning, Jameis Winston will walk into the office of head coach Dirk Koetter and get the news.

There will likely be hugs and handshakes, but within the first few minutes, Koetter will tell Winston what his role will be Sunday at Chicago.

Koetter wouldn't comment on the decision following Monday night's 30-27 loss to the Steelers. But all indications are Winston will be backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick.

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"We'll see,'' Koetter said. "Let's see what the injury report comes back. Anytime we have these games, you know it's not always obvious how the guys are going to come in the next day and come in on Wednesday. Let's see what happens. I'd love to get a chance to talk to Jameis face to face before I tell the rest of the world.

"Look, we've got a good football team. I'm proud of these guys. We came up short today. Now some will jump off the bandwagon and rightfully so. We've got to go on the road the next two games and it's hard to win on the road. We've got to get back to business on Wednesday.''

Fitzpatrick didn't play great Monday. He threw three interceptions on three consecutive passes in the first half, including one that was returned for a touchdown. He help dig a 30-10 hole by halftime.

But he rallied the Bucs late, finishing 30-of-50 passing for 411 yards and three TDs to go with the three INTs. It was his third straight 400-yard passing game, a club record.

It seems unlikely, especially given his second-half rally, that Koetter would give Fitzpatrick the hook after leading the Bucs to a 2-1 start and nearly rallying to beat the Steelers.

"Of course, we love Jameis,'' Koetter said. "Jameis is a member of our team and anxious to get him back. He'll be great in our locker room. And I know Jameis, whatever role he ends up in, I know Jameis will embrace that role and give it everything he's got.''

Fitzpatrick was asked what he thought would happen at the quarterback position when Winston returns.

"I have so much fun playing this game,'' Fitzpatrick said. "I have fun playing with these guys. And I'm here just ready to do whatever it takes to help the team win and I think that will be my mindset going forward.''

Does Fitzpatrick believe he has played well enough to keep the starting job over Winston?

"Well, I'm happy with the way the first two games went,'' Fitzpatrick said. "I'm not happy with the way I turned the ball over today and I didn't finish that fourth quarter drive. So there's a lot of things that I think I could've done better today.''

Receiver Mike Evans, who had six catches for 137 yards, including a 51-yard TD, said not all the interceptions were on Fitzpatrick.

"One was my fault,'' Evans said. "I deviated on my route and tricked Fitz and he threw it across the middle. That was my fault. And a couple tips.''

Evans is one of Winston's closest friends. But for the time being, Bucs players aren't taking sides. They seem as if they want to ride the hot hand, which still belongs to Fitzpatrick. It's a shorter week, and ends with travel to Chicago. Winston has missed 21 days and it will be more than a month since he's played in a football game when they tee it up at Soldier Field Sunday.

What will Winston bring the Bucs?

"Maybe a little more energy,'' Evans said. "We've been having great energy but Jameis is a high-energy guy. So he'll bring some energy.

"He'll always be one of my close friends and I'm excited to have him back.''

Contact Rick Stroud at Follow @NFLStroud