Ryan Fitzpatrick was one of the biggest stories in the NFL in the first two weeks of the season. We thought we knew he was: a 35-year-old journeyman quarterback with an inconsistent game and a glorious beard. But he surprised us, throwing for 819 yards and eight touchdowns and leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 2-0 record.
There were some lingering questions about his two-week explosion, though. Would he be able to continue this level of play? And would the Bucs stick with him once Jameis Winston returned in Week 4?
After his Jekyll-and-Hyde performance in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, we’re still not much closer to an answer on the staying power of Fitzmagic.
The Fitzmagic was gone early in the game
Tampa Bay struggled to get on the board in the first half due to three interceptions by Fitzpatrick. His first one was batted down in the backfield by Steelers linebacker Jon Bostic. The ball flew up in the air and right into the arms of defensive back Mike Hilton for a costly red zone turnover.
Pittsburgh didn’t get points on the next drive, but it did rob Tampa of a scoring opportunity.
His second interception came on the first play of the next drive. It was an ugly throw way over the head of Mike Evans and the ball dropped right into rookie Terrell Edmunds’ hands — the first pick of his young career.
Fitzpatrick’s third and final interception was his worst throw of the night. He threw it right into the arms of Bud Dupree, who easily walked in for a Steelers pick-six that extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 23-7.
All three of these interceptions happened in the second quarter, the final two within three minutes of game time from each other. At halftime, the Bucs trailed 30-10 and it looked like the game was about to be a complete blowout.
But just as we were about to write him off, Fitzpatrick bounced back with a nice second half to became the first player in NFL history to throw for 400 yards in three consecutive games.
But Fitzmagic never truly dies
Tampa Bay trailed 30-13 to start the fourth quarter — that’s when Fitzpatrick caught the Fitzmagic. He was able to connect on two touchdown passes to give the Bucs life as they attempted a late comeback.
His first touchdown in the fourth quarter was to second-year receiver Chris Godwin, who helped make up for an earlier fumble and a couple drops. The throw wasn’t great, but he gave his big athletic receiver a chance to go up and get it:
Chris Godwin with a nice route pic.twitter.com/GiZCiJA4IS— LeadingNFL (@LeadingNFL) September 25, 2018
His second score followed the same theme. Not a perfect pass, but Fitzpatrick threw the ball in a spot where Evans could make a play on it. Evans had to come back to the ball a bit, but Fitzpatrick left him enough room to make a play on the ball inbounds.
FITZMAGIC IS ALIVE!— FanDuel (@FanDuel) September 25, 2018
The Bucs trail the Steelers by 3 after this scoring drive ending in a Mike Evans touchdown pic.twitter.com/GYGdtVksUw
Unfortunately for the Bucs, Fitzpatrick wasn’t able to complete the comeback. It wasn’t all his fault. DeSean Jackson had an electrifying punt return for a touchdown that was called back due to a holding penalty. The Bucs made up for it by scoring on the next drive with that Evans touchdown, but it also cost them three minutes of game clock.
Tampa Bay’s defense couldn’t get off the field in the second half either. The Steelers ran 28 plays after halftime and only faced five third downs, including a kneel down on the final play of the game. Ben Roethlisberger finished the night with 353 passing yards and three touchdowns, and James Conner sealed the game with a 17-yard run.
In the end, the Buccaneers dug themselves into a deep enough hole that they couldn’t climb out of. Fitzpatrick’s interceptions played a big role in that, but he also wasn’t the only one who made costly mistakes.
Now, Tampa Bay has a decision to make
The totality of this game leaves the coaching staff in a bit of an awkward spot. Winston is set to rejoin the team starting this week after his three-game suspension for allegedly groping an Uber driver.
The Buccaneers are off to a better-than-expected start too. They’re 2-1 after playing the Saints, Eagles, and Steelers to open the season — three playoff teams last year — and Fitzpatrick has largely played well for them. That could be enough to keep the incoming quarterback controversy on ice for a few weeks.
Earlier in the week, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported that the Bucs are going to stick with Fitzpatrick as the starter even after Winston reports with the team. Head coach Dirk Koetter, on the other hand, wasn’t ready to fully commit to either quarterback after the game.
#Bucs coach Dirk Koetter on who will play QB at Chicago Sunday: "Let’s see what happens. I’d love to get a chance to talk to Jameis (Winston) face to face before I tell the rest of the world.''— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) September 25, 2018
If the staff feels like the first half of the game was just an aberration, then it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team stick with Fitzpatrick for at least the next few weeks. If they’re troubled by Fitzpatrick’s performance and don’t believe that he’ll keep making big plays down the field, then they’ll probably give Fitzpatrick a short leash.
Regardless, the Fitzmagic journey through the first two weeks should grant him enough time to stave Winston off for at least one more week. The Bucs have a tough test next week as they head to Chicago to take on Khalil Mack and a ferocious Bears defense. Tampa Bay has a bye after that, so the team will have plenty of time to assess where its quarterback situation is.
For now, we’ll just to tune in next time to see if Fitzmagic lives — or if Fitztragic returns.