Despite Fitzpatrick becoming the first player in NFL history to throw for 400-plus pass yards in three consecutive games to open the season, it seemed like Koetter was looking for any reason at all to move on from the veteran QB. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported before Sunday's tilt that the coach even considered going toRyan Griffin during the Bucs' Week 3 loss before Fitzmagic almost led a rousing comeback.
Koetter used the second half of Sunday's humiliating loss in Chicago to get Winston's feet wet after the quarterback missed the first three games due to suspension. The quarterback threw for 145 yards on 16-of-20 passing with a touchdown and two interceptions. Winston predictably looked rusty early against a Bears defense sitting back and allowing its front four to generate pressure.
On Monday, the coach intimated his plan all along was to bring Winston back after the Week 5 bye, noting that when the signal-caller was officially suspended during the summer, he looked at the schedule and pinpointed the Falcons tilt for a return.
In a seemingly foreboding statement, Koetter noted that Winston "is a guy who will be here way longer than me and needs to be playing," per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. Given Koetter's currently calescent coaching seat, the phrasing stood out.
As we saw with Fitzpatrick through three weeks, Winston should be buffered by enough surrounding talent to succeed. Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin are a dangerous receiving trio, while Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard (when healthy) are a potent tight-end combo. Winston's biggest problem in his first three years has been turnovers, an issue he'll need to solve to prove to the organization he is, in fact, the long-term solution.
Given the Bucs' porous defense, Winston must put up points by the bucket load in his return. If he can't buoy a suddenly floundering Tampa team, the whole operation might get an overhaul.
Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick took the news in stride.