Heading into Sunday's game, Jameis Winston was a replacement-level quarterback. He ranked 14th in value per play among all quarterbacks, according to Football Outsiders, ahead of Carson Wentz, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. But by late Sunday afternoon, Winston was mercifully benched after one of the worst games of his NFL career.
When it was over, Winston was 18 of 35 for 276 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions, each one more inexplicable than the one that preceded it.
There was the red zone pick:
And the pick-six, which was the last straw for coach Dirk Koetter:
Winston, the first-overall pick in 2015, was supposed to be the franchise quarterback that would return the organization to those halcyon days under Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden. Instead, the Bucs have just one winning season since Winston's arrival (they went 9-7 in '16) and are coming off a 5-11 mark a year ago. As it stands, Winston doesn't know where it all went wrong.
"I can't find a common factor," Winston explained after the game, via the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud. "My main thing right now is finding a solution to eliminate them. I know I'm definitely the reason we came up short in this game and I own that. And I have to fix it. There's not much that I can really say."
As for getting benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick, who almost led the comeback win over the Bengals, Winston admitted, "It was very humbling. But it's not about me. It's my fault that we were in that position."
Credit to Winston for owning up to it all but that doesn't change just how poorly he played. And it's stats like these that must keep Koetter up a night.
With 4 INT today, Jameis Winston has thrown 2+ INT in 5 straight games extending back to 2017 (T-Most since 1990)— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 28, 2018
His 13 total INT in that span are tied for the most in a 5-game stretch over the last 5 seasons — with Ryan Fitzpatrick, the man who just replaced him in the game
On Sunday, the Bucs' coach wasn't ready to pull the plug on Winston.
"We don't need to talk about it," Koetter said after the game, via The Athletic's Greg Auman. "I mean, today is not the day I have to decide that, right? We don't have to talk about that today. I don't have any problems making decisions, and I will make it when the time is right. Now is probably not the right time to make it."
After sleeping on it, however, Koetter announced that Winston would be benched and Fitzgerald would be his starter this week against Carolina.
After a 2-0 start, the Bucs are 1-4 and tied with the Falcons for the worst record in the NFC South. The season is far from over -- even though it may seem like it playing in the same division as the Saints and Panthers -- but if Koetter's best chance to salvage things means benching Winston, the designated face of the franchise, then that's apparently what he'll do. yes, the Bucs want Winston to prove he was worth that first-overall pick but no one's going to have a job in January if he continues to play like he did against the Bengals.
Fitzpatrick isn't the long-term answer in Tampa but he doesn't have to be. The Bucs just need to be competitive over the final two months of the season and then they can make a decision on Winston after the season.