NFL

Jameis Winston on being benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick: ‘It’s a minor setback for a major comeback’

We’re only at the midway point but it’s already been a forgettable season for Jameis Winston. He missed the first three games while serving a suspension and after he returned in Week 4 he’s been one of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks. According to Football Outsiders, Winston ranks 26th in value per play among all passers, just behind Case Keenum, Blake Bortles and Eli Manning.

So it should come as no surprise that coach Dirk Koetter had seen enough, and midway through last Sunday’s game against the Bengals benched Winston, who had thrown four interceptions, including one in the red zone and a pick-six. Winston called the demotion “humbling,” though now he’s using it as motivation to get back on the field.

“I know I’m going to be working my tail off to be ready when my time comes again,” he told reporters Thursday, via the Tampa Bay Times‘ Eduardo Encina. “Right now, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m gonna make sure I’m preparing every single week, being a great teammate that I can be, being the great quarterback that I can be and that’s all. …

“It’s a setback,” he continued. “But it’s a minor setback for a major comeback. It just tells you that you’ve got to continue to get better. I’ve never been in this situation before, so I have to learn from it and I have to grow from it. I have no choice.”

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. And now the offense again will be led by 35-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw for 819 yards with eight touchdowns and an interception in the team’s 2-0 start but gave way to Winston midway through Week 4’s blowout loss to the Bears.

For now, it remains unclear when Winston will get his job back, and stats like these are a big reason why:

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. And should Fitzpatrick remain the starter over the final two months you have to wonder if Winston will have played his last down for the Bucs; they can cut him before next March, when his $20.9 million for 2019 become fully guaranteed, and begin anew the search for a franchise quarterback. 

As it stands, Winston’s focused on one thing: earning his job back.

“I just have to keep working hard,” he said. “Like I’ve said, every year my goal is to get better and better, and right now, I’m not getting the job done, so I have been replaced and I’m moving forward.”

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