To little surprise, Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is expected to start on Sunday at Chicago. Many will be surprised if Fitzpatrick is yanked during the game.
Maybe they shouldn’t be.
Consider this, from Ian Rapoport of NFL Media: On Wednesday, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter openly discussed in a team meeting the fact that he was considering yanking Fitzpatrick during Monday night’s loss to the Steelers. Koetter reportedly said he was a play or two away from removing Fitzpatrick and inserting Ryan Griffin, presumably during a first half that included three straight Fitzpatrick interceptions on three straight plays.
Surprisingly, the team didn’t deny it, instead explaining that Koetter has extreme confidence in all of the team’s quarterbacks.
So what does this mean right now for Fitzpatrick? It likely means that the leash will be very short at Soldier Field, and that Koetter won’t hesitate to flip the switch to Jameis Winston, not just in a given week but in a given game.
Suddenly, then, Koetter has assumed the attitude that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had a year ago with Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, keeping Teddy Bridgewater constantly at the ready in the event Keenum stumbled. (After Keenum’s second interception against Washington, for example, Bridgewater was spotted putting his helmet on.)
The question is whether this tactic will work on Fitzpatrick. During his three-game stint as the starter, he likely assumed he wouldn’t be pulled. (He may have assumed wrong.) Now that Winston is back, will Fitzpatrick say “F” it and let it rip, or will he worry that his next mistake may be his last mistake, causing him possibly to hold the ball a bit longer than he should, thinking a little bit more than is warranted, and possibly setting the stage for the blunder that gets him benched?
Through it all, the question is this: For as good as Fitzpatrick has been, could Winston be as good if not better? There’s only one way to find out, and the challenge for Koetter will be picking the right time to flip the switch.