Jameis Winston‘s suspension ends today, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is expected to remain the Buccaneers’ starting quarterback. The theory goes that you just don’t bench a guy who’s coming off three consecutive 400-yard passing games, as Fitzpatrick is.
But Fitzpatrick outplaying Winston actually started last year, during the three games Fitzpatrick started when Winston was injured. The Buccaneers went 2-1 in the three games Fitzpatrick started, compared to 2-10 in the 13 games Winston started. And advanced stats like Football Outsiders’ DVOA and ESPN’s QBR say that Fitzpatrick played slightly better than Winston last year.
Through three games this year, Fitzpatrick has played better than Winston has ever played in any three-game stretch of his NFL career. Fitzpatrick’s stats this year are so unprecedented that regression to the mean is a near-certainty, but just because Fitzpatrick is likely to regress, that doesn’t mean he’s likely to be worse than Winston, coming in without having practiced in three weeks, would be.
Overall, over the Buccaneers’ last 12 games, Fitzpatrick and Winston have each started six. In the six games started by Fitzpatrick, the Bucs are 4-2. In the six games started by Winston, the Bucs are 1-5. Winston has averaged 275.2 yards per game and thrown nine touchdown passes. Fitzpatrick has averaged 329.2 yards per game and thrown 14 touchdown passes.
But the passing numbers aren’t even the area where Fitzpatrick most outshines Winston. What Fitzpatrick does far better than Winston is recognize the pass rush, get rid of the ball before the rush arrives, and protect the ball when he can’t get rid of it. That’s why Winston has been sacked 22 times and fumbled seven times over his last six games, while Fitzpatrick has been sacked just eight times and fumbled zero times over his last six games.
If Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter were to go to Winston now, he’d be choosing the lesser of his two quarterbacks. The 24-year-old Winston may have a long future as the Buccaneers’ franchise quarterback, but the best quarterback on the roster at present is Fitzpatrick.