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Bucs' Doug Martin believes he was benched for fumbling

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Bucs unable to overcome distractions in loss to Lions (1:29)

ESPN's Jenna Laine says the Bucs didn't help the rumors surrounding QB Jameis Winston and coach Dirk Koetter after turning the ball over five times on Sunday. (1:29)

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin believes he was benched after fumbling on a key play at the Lions' 23-yard line during a 24-21 loss to Detroit on Sunday.

"When you turn the ball over and you fumble, your chances get cut pretty short, so that’s what happened there," said Martin, who started the game and had 10 touches in the first half, including a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

On Martin's fumble, he faced nine players in the box and actually had a teammate fall into him on the play. He acknowledged that he didn't keep the ball close enough to his body on the play, which would have given the Bucs a new set of downs with more than three minutes remaining in the half. At that point, they were trailing 14-7.

After his fumble, one of five Bucs turnovers on the day, Martin had zero touches in the second half.

“That tends to happen when you have an effective back like Peyton Barber," Martin said. "He’s been effective. Last game we saw what he could do."

Coming off the first 100-yard rushing game of his career last week, Barber had three touches in the first half of the Lions game and nine in the second. He rushed for 58 yards, averaging a team-best 4.8 yards per carry. Martin had 26 rushing yards on 10 carries, averaging 2.6 yards per rush.

Asked if it is a team rule for running backs to get benched when they fumble, Martin said, "That's usually how it goes. When you put the ball on the ground, your opportunities get lower and Peyton did a good job running the ball last week and he did a good job this week. When you put the ball on the ground, your opportunities go down."

When Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was asked about balancing the workload of his running backs, there was no mention of a benching for Martin.

“It was Peyton’s turn to start off in the second half. He was doing a good job; we stayed with him," Koetter said. "Then, we used [Charles] Sims [III] there a little bit in the last two drives."

Martin missed the first three games of the season due to suspension and missed a fourth game because of a concussion. When healthy, he's had a disappointing season, averaging 3.12 yards per carry, while the Bucs' remaining three running backs have averaged more in yards per carry, but with fewer touches: Barber at 3.82 yards, Jacquizz Rodgers at 3.84 and Sims at 4.68.

Rodgers has begun playing more of a role on special teams and the Bucs prefer Sims in space and as a third-down back. Barber has more of a downhill style that is similar to Martin's, so if anyone is replacing him on first and second down, it's Barber, whom the Bucs signed last year as an undrafted free agent out of Auburn.

After Barber's performance last week, the question was raised if he'd get the nod this week, too. Koetter wouldn't answer, but he said just a few weeks ago that generally he did not believe starters could lose their job to injury. In Martin's case, though, it wasn't necessarily an injury, but a performance issue. The offensive line has struggled opening up holes, but Barber has had more success with that same line.

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken had one theory.

“He is certainly a bigger back [than Martin]," Monken said. "He is able to certainly bring the capability of yards after contact. I think that’s what it was [against the Packers]."

Martin's contract calls for him to make $6.75 million next season, which is top five among all running backs. But with no guaranteed money, the Bucs are under no obligation to keep him. It's hard to see them doing so with his falling production over the past two seasons, averaging just 3.01 yards per carry.