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Dirk Koetter’s latest move to save the Bucs’ season didn’t work, either

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter has fired one of his best friends in coaching, changed quarterbacks twice and taken over play-calling from his offensive coordinator in an effort to save Tampa Bay's season, and possibly his own job. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter has fired one of his best friends in coaching, changed quarterbacks twice and taken over play-calling from his offensive coordinator in an effort to save Tampa Bay's season, and possibly his own job. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published Nov. 12, 2018
Updated Nov. 12, 2018

TAMPA — There was something noticeably different about Dirk Koetter on the sideline Sunday. He held the play sheet and spoke into the microphone on his headset between snaps, talking directly to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

"I called the plays (Sunday),'' Koetter said after the Bucs' 16-3 loss to Washington. "The whole day. Just my own reasons.''

For the first time all season, Koetter took those duties away from offensive coordinator Todd Monken. He didn't get the results the Bucs needed.

Koetter's play calling produced 501 yards of total offense, but Tampa Bay also had four turnovers. Five trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line produced only a field goal.

The Bucs had the most yards in a game for a team scoring three points or fewer in NFL history.

After the game, Koetter stood in front of his players and coaches in the locker room and didn't have an inspiring speech for a team that dropped to 3-6 with its sixth loss in seven games.

"Coach said, 'I don't have the answer. If I did, we'd do it,' '' tackle Demar Dotson said.

When the defense played horribly, giving up a league-worst-average 34 points per game, Koetter fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith, his longtime coaching buddy, after five games and replaced him with linebackers coach Mark Duffner.

After quarterback Jameis Winston reclaimed his starting job after his three-game suspension to start the season and mop-up duty in the second half of a blowout loss at Chicago, he threw 10 interceptions in 31/2 games. Koetter benched him and re-inserted Fitzpatrick, hoping the turnovers would stop.

They haven't.

Fitzpatrick had two interceptions Sunday and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter on second and goal from the Washington 4-yard line. Coupled with his two interceptions last week in a loss at Carolina, that gives the Bucs 25 turnovers on the season and a minus-19 giveaway-takeaway ratio, the worst in the league.

"Settling for field goals or turning the ball over in the red zone, that stuff is not good,'' Fitzpatrick said. "You're not going to win games, and we weren't good enough to overcome it (Sunday). And the majority of that — there were plenty of issues — but the majority of that falls on me.''

Koetter's next move is likely getting with general manager Jason Licht to fire kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who missed field-goal tries of 30 and 48 yards wide right, the second of which would have tied the score at 6 in the third quarter. Catanzaro's missed point-after kicks at Atlanta and Cincinnati forced the Bucs into point-chasing decisions in those road losses.

Needing to practically win all of the Bucs' remaining seven games to make a run at a wild-card playoff berth, Koetter will most likely go back to Winston on Sunday against the Giants. It's the only sensible thing to do, given the investment the Bucs have in what they hoped would be their franchise quarterback.

"We'll talk about all personnel issues (today),'' Koetter said.

In some ways, you can't blame Koetter for wrestling the play sheet back from Monken.

He turns 60 in February. It's unlikely he would get another head coaching job if he fails in Tampa Bay. If he is going to go down, he wants to do it singing My Way.

After all, Koetter became a head coach because of his ability to design an explosive offense and call plays. It's a lot to give up, and why not grab the wheel if the season appears to be headed for a cliff?

It's no different from Raheem Morris or Lovie Smith taking over the Bucs' defense. It feels a lot like Greg Schiano declaring he had found his quarterback in Mike Glennon and not Josh Freeman.

Dotson, the Bucs' longest-tenured player having been with the organization since 2009, has seen plenty of coaches where Koetter is today.

"Any time you don't win, a coach's job is going to be under pressure,'' Dotson said. "I've done been through four of them. It's common sense. You know, you don't win … you lose your job.

"It's a performance business. I like Dirk as a coach and a person, and you would think you'd want to go out there and fight for the guy. We've had some good head coaches around here, and at the end of the day, if you don't win, you lose them.''

It's a shame, really.

Koetter has produced the best offense in Bucs history. Sunday, his beleaguered defense actually played one of its better games, holding Washington to two field goals in the first half.

But for all the yards mowed by the Bucs on Sunday, they ran out of gas every time they got close to the end zone. Six times the Bucs were inside the Washington 30.

The Bucs' nine possessions ended like this: interception, punt, missed field goal, field goal, end-of-half tackle of Jacquizz Rodgers at the Washington 47, missed field goal, interception, fumble, fumble.

As the clock wound down, Washington faced third and 5 with 2:02 remaining trying to protect its lead. Koetter threw a red challenge flag. Problem was, the Bucs were out of timeouts, resulting in a 15-yard penalty and a first down.

"That was on me,'' Koetter said. "I knew we didn't have any timeouts.''

Right about now, the clock is ticking louder on Koetter's head coaching career.

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud.