The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ looming quarterback crisis turned out to be just a bump in the road, albeit a record-breaking one.
Thanks to the three-game suspension of starting quarterback Jameis Winston, backup Ryan Fitzpatrick was thrust into action to start the 2018 season. A 35-year-old with a lifetime passer rating of 81.0, “Fitzmagic” led the Bucs to a 2-1 start with upset wins over the New Orleans Saints and Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Fitzpatrick struggled in a Week 3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but still set an NFL record with his third straight game with more than 400 passing yards. Winston, the 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick, was eligible to return in Week 4. Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter decided to roll with the hot hand in Fitzpatrick into Soldier Field and a meeting with the Chicago Bears.
The Fitzmagic ran out with a crushing 48-10 defeat. Fitzpatrick was pulled at halftime and Winston regained his starting spot. In the end, the decision was made for Koetter pretty quickly. It was justifiable that he would not want to thrust Winston back into game action in his first week rejoining the team. But what if Fitzpatrick had performed well again in Chicago? Koetter no doubt would have felt quite a bit more pressure on his decision.
How does a coach make such a decision? Ride the hot hand or restore the starter? Both are risky. On one hand, you rely on an unproven career backup to maintain his performance. On the other, you have a more known commodity, but there are no guarantees of future performance.
What’s your take?
Take 1: Ride the hot hand
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The starter isn’t going anywhere. So if/when the new person falters, you can always go to him or her. You don’t want to create a new problem to try and solve if a problem doesn’t exist yet. You don’t know that the hot hand will fail. So act as if they won’t. There are plenty of examples of players thrust into a starting role in the NFL who can do the job. Just look at Nick Foles with the Eagles last year. It is also worth considering why the starter isn’t playing. In this case, he was suspended, and took himself out of the starting job.
Take 2: The starter is the starter
If Winston had been available, he would have started the year. That’s the reason you have backups, to play until the starter is ready. So once he becomes available again, he remains the starter. It was not worth waiting until Fitzpatrick had his first bad game, because every game is huge in the NFL. You know what you have in Winston, so he should have played immediately. It also shows the coach still has confidence in his starters.
So should a coach stick with what’s working? Or do original starters automatically earn their job back? Have your say in the comments below.
From GameChanger and Todd Kortemeier.