INSIDE SCOOP

Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

November 01, 2018 at 1:38 am.

QB Winston’s future now in doubt

There was a time when Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston had a lot in common with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

Both were first overall picks. Both came to struggling NFC South teams that needed a savior. Both had strong arms but struggled early in their careers.

But no more.

While Newton battled injuries, he was never benched for poor performance. Winston had his job taken away from him after throwing four interceptions in a 37-34 loss to the Bengals.

Ryan Fitzpatrick will start Sunday at Carolina at 1 p.m., a game the Bucs (3-4) must win to keep their fading playoff hopes alive.

“We’re going to start Fitz at quarterback this week and it’s what we feel like we need to do this week to give ourselves the best chance,” head coach Dirk Koetter said. “It’s just for right now. The most important thing we’ve got is this week so we’ll see how things go. I don’t like switching quarterbacks. That’s not in my makeup to switch quarterbacks but I just feel like we’ve got to make a switch at this time.”

The NFL forced Koetter’s hand the first time to go from Winston to Fitzpatrick when they suspended the Bucs starter for three games for violating the player conduct policy when he inappropriately and without consent touched a female Uber driver in a sexual manner.

Then after Winston played mop-up in the second half of a blowout loss at Chicago, Koetter said his decision to move from Fitzpatrick back to Winston was in the best interest of the organization. Koetter said Winston “is a guy who will be here way longer than me and needs to be playing.”

So why are the Bucs going back to Fitzpatrick again?

“Minus-13. Last in the league in turnover ratio,” Koetter explained. “Minus-13. We’re not getting any, that’s one thing. But minus-3 a week ago and minus-4 in this game. And that just can’t happen.”

It’s simple, really. Winston has 10 interceptions, which is tied for the most in the league with Jets rookie Sam Darnold and the Broncos’ Case Keeenum with at least 100 fewer passing attempts.

Koetter’s choice was a difficult one.

As much as he felt he needed to go to Fitzpatrick to give the Bucs the best chance to win Sunday’s game, he also didn’t want to lose the locker room.

After Fitzpatrick rallied the Bucs by going 11-of-15 passing for 194 yards, including touchdown passes to wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end O.J. Howard, it would have been a tough sell to convince 51 other players that Winston deserved to start against the Panthers.

Koetter is at a loss to say why Winston keeps turning the football over. They’ve tried everything.

“If I knew exactly why, then I’d do everything I could to try to fix it,” Koetter said. “We wouldn’t be where we’re at right now. It’s just becoming a little bit too much of a trend and it becomes that much of a trend when that’s the main thing that’s holding us back right now. We have plenty of other issues including coaching (but) we just can’t lose the turnover (ratio) 7-to-0 in the last two games. We just can’t do that and expect to win.

“I think all quarterbacks – like pro golfers – why do some of the best golfers in the world struggle from time to time? I think Jameis is one of the best quarterbacks in the world and I think he will be back. For right now – we went over this the other day, all this stuff. A lot of teams don’t switch because they have an untested backup or they’re afraid to put their backup in there and we don’t have either of those. Right now, we just have to stop turning the ball over and so we’re going to go with Fitz. I still have plenty of confidence in Jameis moving forward.”

Fitzpatrick has played as well as he ever has in his career. But he will need to find more Fitzmagic in his arm to take down the Panthers.

SERIES HISTORY: 36th regular season meeting. Panthers lead series, 22-13. One of the teams has swept the series every year since 2008.