TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter erased all doubt surrounding his quarterback situation Monday by naming Jameis Winston the starter for the Bucs' Week 6 game against the Atlanta Falcons.
He'll replace Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led the Bucs to wins over the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles. Fitzpatrick led the NFL with 1,230 passing yards and became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 yards in three consecutive weeks.
"It's not necessarily something I wanted to hear, just in terms of getting that taste back, that feeling of being out there and having fun, enjoying myself, kind of creating some momentum at the beginning of the season with the guys," Fitzpatrick said Monday. "But Jameis is back and he's the guy. He's the face of the franchise. He's gonna do a great job. But it's not like it's a happy day for me. I enjoy being out there."
Fitzpatrick started against the Chicago Bears on Sunday but was pulled after the first half. Koetter hadn't planned to make an in-game switch, but the Bucs were down by five touchdowns at halftime, and he felt it was important to get Winston some in-game reps after being away for three weeks due to suspension.
"In no way is this on Fitz that we lost like we did yesterday. Fitz didn't play as well as he's been playing, but this was a 100 percent team deal," Koetter said, adding that when he initially saw the Bucs' schedule, he'd planned to give Fitzpatrick four starts and turn things over to Winston after this week's bye week unless Fitzpatrick was playing "lights out," which would have meant playing him longer.
Neither quarterback played "lights out" Sunday in their 48-10 loss to the Bears. Fitzpatrick completed 9 of 18 passes for 126 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Winston was able to move the ball a bit better, getting 12 first downs compared with Fitzpatrick's four in the first half. Winston went 16-of-20 for 145 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. They were each sacked twice.
"We brought Fitz here two years ago to be a mentor for Jameis and to be a guy that could fill in if Jameis was out for injury. Both times we've asked Fitz to fill in -- for a three-game stretch a year ago he led us to 2-1 [and] a four-game stretch this year, he led us to 2-2 this year -- job well-done, excellent. I think any team in the league would take that," Koetter said.
"Fitz's combination of experience, talent and leadership is valued at a very high level here. But at the same time, Jameis Winston is the guy that's gonna be here way longer than I am so he needs to be out there playing, and he will be, unless he gets hurt at Atlanta."
Fitzpatrick acknowledged that he was disappointed by the decision but said he'll support Winston however he can.
"What I said to my dad after how Week 1 went, and Week 2 and Week 3, was basically... 'I'm either gonna win the NFL MVP this year or I'll be back at the bench at some point.' That's just the reality of the situation," Fitzpatrick said. "I wish I could still be out there but that's the way that it goes and I'll accept my role."