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The “next man up” might not be such a bad thing for Bucs

Photo by Wayne Masut I The Scrum Sports

With Jameis Winston‘s three-game suspension looming, it’s time for “Fitzmagic” to take the wheel.

It’s not been a good 24 hours for the Buc’s franchise guy. In fact, the last 24 hours might determine the career of the 24-year old Winston. How things unfold over the next couple months leading up to Week 1 could make things better or worse. The NFL has already spent eight months investigating “Uber-gate.” One would think they’re trying to put it to bed after laying down this hefty suspension on the fourth-year QB. The guy who just had his fifth-year option picked up assuring him of a serious and significant pay raise. That all crumbles if this gets worse. If this gets better, the Bucs have Winston back for Week 4 and beyond. Until then, it is “next man up.”

That next man is Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Flashback to last season when Fitzpatrick saw action in six games, starting three. It wasn’t always pretty, but he went 2-1 in the games he started, and showed he could move the Dirk Koetter’s offense down the field. Here’s his body of work in those six games: 58.9 comp %, 1,103 yards, 7 TD’s, 3 INT’s and he even carried the ball 16 times for a 4.75 yards/carry average.

The problem isn’t going to lie in who’s under center come Week 1 in New Orleans. The problem is going to lie in the first three opponents Fitzpatrick and Co are facing. It’s the toughest quarter of the season they have all year, let alone one of the toughest opening quarters to a season they’ve had in recent memory.

Don’t stop believing

Sure, the first three opponents (Saints, Eagles, Steelers) have a combined 37-11 record from a year ago. Yeah, the Eagles are the defending champs. Of course Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger are heading to the Canton and still playing at high levels. But Buc’s fans, fret not. Everyone starts the year 0-0 and these Bucs are much improved over last year.

Right?

I mean, that’s what they’ve been saying for a few years now, isn’t it?

Who’s “they,” anyway?

This season does seem to have plenty of optimism, however. Pay no attention to the 5-11 record from a year ago. The defense had no pass rush. We all know by now – that dictates everything. The front office added a lot of pieces to fix that puzzle starting with Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, and Mitch Unrein and ending with first-round pick Vita Vea.

It wasn’t the offense that was the problem. It was blown leads in the fourth quarter or having to play catch up early. That defense has to be better in 2018.

That’s where it starts. Not behind center because Fitzpatrick has been a winner in his career, before. He’s only a few years removed from having a Pro Bowl-caliber year with the Jets. A Jets team with far fewer weapons than this year’s Bucs.

The other factor will hopefully be lined up behind him in second-round pick Ronald Jones who should spark the running game – something else the team severely lacked last season.

What if…

…this team finds a way to rally behind something so ugly and turn it into extra motivation? What if this team comes out of that three-game stretch 2-1? Or, in some crazy “any given Sunday” alternate universe they’re 3-0? Winston comes back for Week 4 with a clean slate, rested, and he himself extra motivated with the biggest chip on his shoulder ever.

Have you seen an extra motivated Jameis Winston play? Maybe you should go watch some tape.

June is wrapping up. Training camp is a month away. Koetter and his coaching staff have a lot of work to do. Playbooks to tweak. A summer and fall without #3 to get used to.

Did he do it? There isn’t a soul beyond Winston and his accuser that knows for sure. As fans, let’s focus on the rest of this team and enjoy the upcoming training camps, pre-season, and first three weeks of football rather than dwell on something we’ll never know the truth behind.

Let’s focus on Buccaneer football.

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