TAMPA — There are lies, damn lies and statistics, none of which are working in favor of Jameis Winston and Dirk Koetter avoiding a split in the near future.
Even before the Bucs turned the football over five times and lost to the Detroit Lions 24-21 Sunday on Matt Prater’s 46-yard field goal with 20 seconds remaining, the whispering campaigns and gossip mongering from unnamed sources had begun.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported before the game that the relationship between Winston and Koetter is "not in a good place." He said the tension began with Winston feeling his head coach had not supported him properly when he attempted to play through a shoulder injury. He also is supposedly frustrated with the predictability of the offense and the Bucs inability to score points despite the rich talent on offense.
If so, Winston didn’t help his case by committing three of the Bucs five turnovers Sunday with two interceptions and another lost fumble.
The Bucs rallied from a 21-7 deficit on Winston’s two touchdown passes. But with the score tied and 3:10 remaining, Winston was unable to complete a screen pass to Charles Sims on third down and the Bucs defense allowed the Lions to drive 49 yards for Prater’s field goal.
Speculation is that someone in Winston’s camp is trying to get Koetter canned, and at 4-9 assuring a losing record after lofty expectations fueled by HBO’s Hard Knocks, it may not take much to push him over the ledge. While not wanting to go on the record, a representative of Winston’s and a Bucs official both denied any rift between the quarterback and head coach to the Times Sunday.
After the game, Winston was even more adamant in his denial.
"Listen, me and coach Koetter have a great relationship, first and foremost,’’ Winston said. "And he has the same goal when we go on that football field and that’s to win the football game. So, it doesn’t matter what anybody else can possibly say. Obviously, there’s a lot of stuff that can come out when we’re not doing as expected. But that’s false, okay? Coach Koetter coaches his tail off and he definitely supports me. So whatever anybody else has to say outside of that…that’s water up under a bridge, man. That’s shocking.
"A, it’s a distraction and a lot of distractions come up when we don’t perform like we need to perform. First and foremost, I’m a strong believer in coaches coach and players play. If you look at today’s game, I didn’t play. I had three turnovers, okay? And a predicable call or any call, you can’t predict that when you have three turnovers. You can’t make that up.’’
Winston wasn’t the only offender in the Bucs committing their most turnovers in a game since 2011. Tight end O.J. Howard lost a fumble at the Detroit 18 in the first quarter. Running back Doug Martin lost a fumble at the Lions 23 in the second quarter and was benched in favor of Peyton Barber.
Winston threw late to DeSean Jackson when he had Mike Evans breaking free behind him and was intercepted. The second pick he believed occurred because Howard was held. And the fumble? "don’t got eyes in the back of my head,’’ Winston said.
The irony is that Koetter, an offensive coordinator in 2015, was hired as head coach to replace Lovie Smith two years ago because the Bucs didn’t want to derail Winston’s development. Koetter has been in Winston’s corner from the start, even dismissing his 53 turnovers in 42 games by constantly reminding everyone he is only 23 years old.
Koetter appeared stunned by the NFL Network report Sunday.
"That’s obviously news to me,’’ Koetter said. "I think Jameis and I have an extremely consistent relationship for the last few years and I don’t think anything is different about it, but that’s just my opinion.
"I know the truth about our relationship but my big concern is our football team.’’
When asked if he could’ve done more to support Winston when he was playing with a hurt shoulder, going 0-4 in the process, Koetter summoned his dry wit.
"I could’ve whipped out my medicine bag and done quick shoulder surgery and fixed him up,’’ he said. "But I wasn’t able to do that.’’
Winston says the rumors of a schism developing between him and Koetter are simply the result of losing.
"I’ve been with coach Koetter since I got in this league and he has not wronged me since I stepped foot in those doors,’’ Winston said. "I believe in what we have as this organization. We got the talent. Some unfortunate things happened. That’s life. That’s football. Some people can blame it on this, some people can blame it on that. At the end of the day, we got to win. And as long as your winning, nobody is sitting here asking me questions about me or my head coach.’’
Following the game, both scoreboards at Raymond James Stadium promoted the Bucs’ Monday Night Football game Dec. 18 as former head coach Jon Gruden will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your Grumors.
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud