Playing for pride: Buccaneers try to reverse regression, finish disappointing season on high note
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Dirk Koetter says he and Jameis Winston have said all they need to say about the state of their relationship as coach and quarterback.
Both deny there’s friction between them, though those proclamations aren’t likely to end speculation about how much longer they’ll remain together with the regressing Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs (4-9) have lost eight of 10 games following a 2-1 start and are assured of missing the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.
Koetter led the team to a 9-7 record a year ago, creating heightened expectations that he and Winston have been unable to meet this season.
NFL Network reported before Sunday’s 24-21 loss to Detroit that the relationship between coach and quarterback is strained.
Koetter and Winston, in his third season since entering the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick in 2015, insist that’s not the case.
“We both said what we had to say,” Koetter reiterated Monday, when asked if he and Winston had met to discuss the subject since their postgame denials.
“He and I know the truth about it,” the coach added, “so I don’t know what else there is to talk about.”
Winston threw for more than 4,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, helping Tampa Bay progress from a team with two wins the year before he was drafted to a club seemingly on the verge of competing for a division title.
But instead of preparing for a meaningful stretch run of games against NFC South rivals Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans, the Bucs find themselves answering questions about how disappointing it is to see the Falcons, Panthers and Saints chasing playoff berths while they’re wallowing in the division cellar.
Injuries, including a shoulder sprain that sidelined Winston for three games and most of a fourth, have been a factor.
But so has inconsistency on both offense and defense, where the team ranks last in sacks and has had difficulty keeping opponents out of the end zone.
Winston said talk about his relationship with Koetter is directly the result of Tampa Bay’s poor record.
“A lot of distractions come up when we don’t perform like we need to perform,” the 23-year-old quarterback said after throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble in the loss to the Lions, who forced five turnovers.
“I’ve been with Coach Koetter since I’ve got in this league and he has not wronged me since I’ve stepped foot in those doors. I believe in what we have as an organization. We’ve got the talent,” Winston added.
“Some unfortunate things happened. That’s life. That’s football. Some people can blame it on this. Some people can blame it on that,” he continued, emotion building in his voice.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to win. As long as we’re winning, no one is talking to me, asking me questions about me and my head coach. No one.”