EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback merry-go-round may be in motion again.
After starting Ryan Fitzpatrick for the first four games, switching to Jameis Winston for the next three and going back to Fitzpatrick for the last three, coach Dirk Koetter is at a crossroads again after the Bucs dropped a 38-35 decision to the New York Giants on Sunday.
Fitzpatrick started the game and was lifted in the third quarter after throwing three interceptions that helped the Giants take a 24-7 lead.
Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, came in and led the Bucs on four touchdown drives, getting them within three points twice only to throw a late interception to B.W. Webb on a desperation pass in the final 30 seconds.
Koetter refused to say who would start Sunday at home against the San Francisco 49ers. He had weighed going back to Winston this week.
“It was close,” Koetter said. “I told you all along, his day was going to come back. That’s water under the bridge right now.”
Asked whether he was second-guessing himself, the coach didn’t hesitate.
“No. You can second-guess every play out there,” he said.
Winston was outstanding. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 199 yards, and his only turnover was the last pass.
“It was pretty obvious he came in and lit it up,” Koetter said, adding he probably would decide on a starter Monday.
The path to Winston seems clear at this point.
“I’m not worried about that,” Winston said of the prospect of starting the final six games. “I’m worried about finding a way to win. I don’t have that much control over that but my play can speak. That’s the only thing I can control. I’m going to try to do my best if I get the opportunity to execute.”
Fitzpatrick was 13 of 21 for 167 yards when he was lifted. He scored a second-quarter touchdown on a fourth-down 1-yard run off what seemed to be a broken play, and he had an opening drive stopped at the Giants’ 5 on a failed fourth-down quarterback sneak.
The turnovers did him in. He was intercepted by defensive back Michael Thomas at the Giants’ 13 on the next to last play of the first half. He saw linebacker Alec Ogletree return an interception 15 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter and then had safety Curtis Riley intercept a rainbow toss into the end zone with 9:42 left in the quarter.
He pretty much knew he was done by that point.
“After the third one in the end zone there I thought that would probably be the decision,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was proud of the way that Jameis went in there and played. It’s not easy to do. It’s not easy to not have any preparation and be working with the scout team and get thrown in there during the middle of the game, so I was proud of the way that he played.”
Fitzpatrick said he doesn’t know what will happen next. He is certain the turnovers have to stop.
“It’s something we stress every week,” Fitzpatrick said. “You can’t win in this league turning the ball over, so it’s something you harp on and you try to correct it every week and unfortunately I did it three times today.”