If something isn’t broken, why try to fix it?
This is the model that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to follow when it comes to their starting quarterback. While Jameis Winston has been serving a too-light 3-game suspension following yet another domestic abuse accusation, Ryan Fitzpatrick has been filling in at quarterback for the Bucs. And he hasn’t just been filling in adamantly. He’s been dominating.
Fitzpatrick, or Fitzmagic as the media has dubbed him, has thrown for 819 yards and 8 touchdowns, and a 151.5 passer rating in the first two games — both wins — against the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles.
And while stats like averaging over 400 yards a game passing and four touchdowns is great and all, the most important statistic the Bucs should be looking at is the perfect 2-0 record that Fitzpatrick has mustered. Also, let’s be clear: The Bucs haven’t trounced over teams like the Buffalo Bills or Arizona Cardinals. Tampa Bay has beaten two playoff teams from a year ago in the Saints and the reigning Super Bowl champion Eagles. An impressive feat, to say the least.
So how, in good conscience, can the Buccaneers bench Fitzpatrick when Winston returns in Week 4?
Short answer: They can’t. And they shouldn’t.
While I expect Fitzmagic to run out at some point — likely sooner rather than later — the simple fact of the matter is that you have to ride the hot hand.
“He’s playing on fire right now,” receiver Desean Jackson said on NFL Network of Fitzpatrick. “With the way the team is rallying behind him and just playing lights-out football, you have to kind of honor it. You can’t take the hot man out. You got the hot fire right now.
“It’s not my decision but I’m sure Dirk Koetter and coach (offensive coordinator Todd) Monken and the guys that make those calls, they’ll make sure they stay on fire until that fire is out,” he continued. “We’re going to stay on fire. That’s our job, to stay on fire and that’s what we’re going to do.”
While Winston is waiting in the wings, there’s also the fact of the matter that there are already questions about whether Winston is a franchise quarterback. In three seasons, Winston has under-impressed. Sure, there have been flashes of great potential, but there have also been times when it looks like he shouldn’t be out on the football field. Not to mention Winston hasn’t played a regular season snap of football yet this season. So even if you’re the Bucs and you’re like, Yep, Jameis is our starter, are you sure he’s ready? Especially against a hungry Bears defense he’d be facing in Week 4?
So if Fitzpatrick goes out on Monday Night Football and tosses another 4 touchdowns and 400 yards and leads the Bucs to a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, how can Tampa Bay possibly bench that guy?
But perhaps the more interesting question is: What happens if the Steelers beat the Bucs but Fitzpatrick puts on another encouraging performance? Do the Bucs use that as an excuse to bench the guy that has this offense gelling? Do the Bucs stick with the hot hand until it runs out?
Things change quickly in the NFL. Six weeks from now we likely won’t be talking about Fitzpatrick taking the league by storm. Someone else will take the spotlight. And that’s just how it works in this league. But while you’ve got Fitzpatrick playing at the level he’s playing at — and leading you to an undefeated record while you’ve got it — you owe it to your team and to your fans to keep rolling with him.