TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - The bye week is coming at a good time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who not only are trying to get acclimated to having Jameis Winston back in the lineup, but need to find a way to fix a leaky defense.
Coach Dirk Koetter made it official Monday, confirming Winston will start the team’s next game - at Atlanta - on Oct. 14.
The No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft missed the first three games of the season while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Ryan Fitzpatrick became the first player in league history to throw for more than 400 yards in three consecutive games while leading the Bucs to a 2-2 start in Winston’s absence.
The “FitzMagic” show came to a screeching halt this past Sunday, when Tampa Bay fell behind Chicago by 35 points. Winston played the entire second half of the 48-10 loss.
“Fitz didn’t play as well as he had been playing, but it was a 100 percent team deal,” Koetter said, reiterating the Bucs were outplayed in every phase of the game.
“At the same time, Jameis Winston is the guy that’s going to be here way longer than I am,” the coach added. “He needs to be playing and he will unless he gets hurt.”
Meanwhile, Koetter stressed what he has no intentions of doing is firing defensive coordinator Mike Smith.
The Bucs have allowed a NFL-high 139 points and rank near the bottom of the league in pass defense.
“For those people who think snapping your fingers and changing your coordinator a quarter of the way through the season, OK, what would you do after that? If we fired Mike Smith, what would the next move be?” Koetter said.
“Changing one person, when we had things go wrong at all levels (Sunday). … We as coaches have got to coach better. That starts with me,” Koetter added. “But Mike Smith didn’t miss any tackles. He didn’t not rush the passer. He didn’t blow any coverages. He didn’t have any communication errors.”
The decision to start Winston against the Falcons essentially has been the plan since Koetter learned in late June that Winston would miss the first three games “unless we were playing lights-out in a good way or lights-out in a bad way like (Sunday).”
The coach reiterated Fitzpatrick, who’s played for seven teams during a 14-year career, did a good job filling in for Winston.
“We brought Fitz here two years ago to be a mentor to Jameis and a guy who could fill in if Jameis was injured. Both times we asked him to fill in - a three-game stretch a year ago he went 2-1 and a four-game stretch he led us to 2-2 this year,” Koetter said. “Job well done. In fact, excellent. I think any team in the league would take that.”
Fitzpatrick, 35, said he understands the move.
“What I said to my Dad after how Week 1 went, and Week 2 and Week 3, was basically … either I’m going to win the NFL MVP this year or I’ll be back on the bench at some point. That’s just the reality of the situation,” said Fitzpatrick, who’s thrown for 1,356 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
“It’s not something I necessarily wanted to hear. … But Jameis is back,” Fitzpatrick added. “Jameis is the guy. He’s the face of the franchise. He’s going to do a great job.”
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