Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Gotta Start Next Week, Right?

Photo: Julio Aguilar (Getty)

The second quarter was FitzTragic, as the Buccaneers QB—as of yesterday, and that’s all that’s certain—threw three interceptions on three consecutive passes. But that was an aberration, one quarter in three games. On the other hand, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s near-comeback in a 30-27 loss to the Steelers gets a small asterisk of its own, much of it rung up against a prevent defense. So: who is the Bucs’ No. 1 QB?

Jameis Winston returns today from a three-game ban for sexually assaulting an Uber driver, but in his absence, the Bucs are 2-1 and Fitzpatrick’s numbers have been nothing short of elite. He is the first and only NFL quarterback in history to have three straight 400-yard games, and his passer rating is a gaudy 124.8, trailing only Patrick Mahomes. It would seem insane for Tampa to move away from that just yet.

But there are other, non-football considerations here: Teams will give every chance to young QBs in whom they’ve already invested much, not only because of the knowledge that Fitzpatrick, who will turn 36 in November, is not a long-term solution to anything, but because of the sunk-cost fallacy: No team wants to admit its first-overall pick isn’t as good as a journeyman it signed on the cheap. There are future issues, too, like Winston’s fifth-year option, which will pay him $20.9 million next season if he’s still on the roster come March. The Bucs can bail on that without cost if they cut him before then. This season is the last chance Tampa has to decide if it sees Winston as a franchise quarterback, and that’s a harder decision to make if he’s not playing.

All of this being said, head coach Dirk Koetter isn’t making it that hard to read between the lines of his thinking.

“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.”

That’s Koetter saying Fitzpatrick is his guy unless it turns out he’s injured, right? I’m not reaching here?

And doesn’t this sound like him saying he expects Jameis to take his backup job and like it?

“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.”

So, all signs point to Fitz starting against the Bears on Sunday. But this issue is far from settled. No matter who the No. 1 QB is, his hold on the job won’t ever be all that secure, especially not as long as the Bucs are in the playoff picture and every game matters. And expect Chicago to bring a pass rush quite unlike anything Tampa has faced this year. Meet you back here next week to do this blog all over again?

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