Koetter benched the former No. 1 overall pick after he threw four interceptions against the Bengals. A third quarter pick-six to rookie defensive back Jessie Bates was the final straw, forcing journeyman backup Ryan Fitzpatrick into a 34-16 game. Fitzpatrick, who had piloted Tampa Bay to a 2-1 record while Winston served a three-game suspension for allegedly groping an Uber driver, led the Bucs on a 55-yard drive that ended in a field goal in his first on-field action since Week 4.
On the very next drive, Fitzpatrick would validate his coach’s decision with a 72-yard touchdown strike to Mike Evans to turn what once looked like a blowout into a one-possession game.
And then, he dialed up the FitzMagic for a 92-yard touchdown drive — and a clutch two-point conversion — that tied the game at 34-all with just 1:05 to play. That was nearly enough to push this game, once 21-0 Bengals to overtime. Instead, Tampa’s awful defense gave up 50 yards in eight plays and Randy Bullock kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired to deprive the world of another Fitzpatrick deep ball in the extra period.
For one week, at least.
How bad was Winston in Week 8?
While his fourth interception was the one that directly led to six Cincinnati points and earned Winston the hook, his second pick of the day was by far the most embarrassing:
I feel like every now and then Jameis Winston just forgets how to play football pic.twitter.com/dnoSHOHvfh— Ari Gilberg (@arigilberg) October 28, 2018
Winston’s four-turnover performance Sunday was endemic of his 2018 struggles. His 10 interceptions tie him with Sam Darnold and Case Keenum for the league lead despite playing half the games (four) of his rookie counterpart. The boom or bust passer has been especially damaging on off days. How bad has it gotten? Well...
Jameis Winston has already thrown a pair of interceptions today.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 28, 2018
His 21 games with multiple turnovers since entering the NFL in 2015 are tied with Blake Bortles for the most in that time. pic.twitter.com/THQwDq4OGV
Is it really Fitzmagic time again?
Koetter was thrown into a tough decision earlier this season when Fitzpatrick took the reins of the Tampa offense and threw for more than 1,200 yards through the first three weeks of the season. The veteran quarterback was briefly the league’s hottest passer, knocking off the Saints and Eagles and nearly leading a rousing comeback over the Steelers in Week 3.
That pushed Koetter to stick with Fitzpatrick even after Winston was cleared to rejoin the team, but a 9 for 18, one-interception performance in a 48-10 loss to the Bears led to a mid-game benching and Winston’s re-coronation atop the Tampa depth chart. But while Winston completed 16 of his 20 passes that afternoon, he only threw for 145 yards and a pair of interceptions in what was effectively garbage time in a blowout loss.
Winston would rack up big yardage the next two weeks while splitting games against the Falcons and Browns, but was haunted by turnovers in the process — he threw six interceptions in his first 10 quarters of the season. That led to the return of Fitzpatrick, whose ability to launch accurate deep balls has meshed well with an explosive receiving corps led by Evans, DeSean Jackson, and OJ Howard. It took only two possessions before he could show off those chops, hitting a wide-open Evans to validate Koetter’s decision in the fourth-quarter of a suddenly-close game.