It's Fitz-magic Time.
All eyes will be on Tampa Bay's new favorite player, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Sunday when the Bucs take on the Panthers in a critical division game.
This could be one heck of a feel-good story.
But what if it's not?
What if Fitzpatrick turns back into the mediocre journeyman he has been for most of his career? What if he turns back into the bum he was in the Chicago game? What if he gets hurt?
The answer is not so simple.
Jameis Winston is ready. He's willing.
Able? Well, that's a whole other story. If he was, he'd still be playing. He isn't, which is why the Bucs are in this mess to begin with.
And that makes for a very complicated situation.
If Fitz-magic turns into Fitz-tragic, simply going back to Winston is not so simple.
The reason Jameis Winston was benched can be traced back to his off-field behavior, Rick Stroud writes, which led to a three-game suspension, which has created this mess. #Bucs #Buccaneers #Jameis @NFLSTROUD @TB_Times https://t.co/SV9jpcnKYF— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) November 2, 2018
You can't keep a revolving door on the quarterback position. If you go back to Winston, you probably have to stay with him until you either decide he is your quarterback from now on or for never again. Starting Winston every other week would be a sure-fire way to divide the team and pile up losses.
But what if?
What if they put Winston back in and he keeps throwing perfect passes to the other team?
What if he does what he always does, which is play well enough to give you hope and then poor enough to give you ulcers?
"I don't think I've ever been benched," Jameis Winston said. "It's humbling, and it's definitely something I can grow from and learn from." #Bucs #Buccaneers #Jameis @EddieInTheYard @TB_Times @Jaboowins https://t.co/fhbgHygSFj pic.twitter.com/NIdsjPh9Ky— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) November 1, 2018
What if you put Winston back in and he gets hurt? Then the Bucs could be on the hook to the tune of $21 million for next season for a quarterback they're not even sure they would want for a dollar.
That's the worst-case scenario.
That possibility is just realistic enough that you have to question if it's a good idea for Winston to even dress for Sunday's game. Maybe the Bucs would be better off covering Winston in bubble-wrap to make sure he doesn't get hurt.
And that's absolutely what the Bucs should do if they've already decided Winston is not a part of this team's future.
Clearly humbled by the first true professional setback of his career, Jameis Winston came off as genuine and sincere. Even vulnerable. #Bucs #Buccaneers @TB_Times @TomWJones #Jameis @Buccaneers https://t.co/VnAC9JjEGH— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) November 1, 2018
That way, if Fitzpatrick flames out, the Bucs could give Ryan Griffin a look-see. The kid has been around for four years. Is he ever going to play or is he just going to run the scout team forever? The 49ers put in some unknown No. 3 Thursday night and this unknown, Nick Mullens, had one of the greatest debuts in NFL history.
Too bad the rules don't do the Bucs any favor here. Teams should be able to dress and have the ability to play all three quarterbacks at any time, not just in emergency. Because they can't, the Bucs will go with Fitzpatrick and Winston.
Griffin will not get his chance. Not now.
Why? Because the Bucs haven't decided that they're done with Winston. Not yet. That's what makes this all a tangled mess.
If the Bucs are planning their future, they probably don't know what to root for.
Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken recruited 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens to play at Southern Mississippi in 2013. #Bucs #Buccaneers #49ers @tometrics @TB_Times #SouthernMiss @SouthernMissFB @49ers @Buccaneers https://t.co/FEY2OnVzbM— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) November 2, 2018
On one hand, the Bucs want Fitzpatrick to tear it up, win a bunch of games and get Tampa Bay into the playoffs. But in that scenario, the Bucs never get to find out about Winston.
On the other hand, if Fitzpatrick bombs and loses a bunch of games, the Bucs will get to continue their fact-finding mission on Winston. But that means another season down the drain.
So what do they do?
Right now, coach Dirk Koetter is only trying to win Sunday. That's why he is starting Fitzpatrick. If there comes a point, either Sunday or another Sunday, that Winston gives the Bucs a better chance, he will turn to Winston.
Seeing how Fitzpatrick plays will be interesting.
Seeing what ends up happening to Winston is even more interesting.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones.