When Jameis Winston’s three-game suspension was announced during the offseason, just about everyone (myself included) assumed the Buccaneers would lose their first three games with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback.
Instead, Fitzmagic has had two of the best games of his 13-year NFL career and may just force Tampa Bay to stick with him as their starting quarterback.
Facing off against the reigning Super Bowl champions, Fitzpatrick was 27 of 33 for 402 passing yards, four touchdowns, one interception and posted a 144.4 passer rating. Comparatively, the Eagles held former NFL MVP Matt Ryan to just 21-for-43 for 251 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a 57.4 passer rating in the season opener. Fitzpatrick also posted more than 400 passing yards in Week 1 against the Saints and also threw four touchdowns in that game.
Many wondered whether he could sustain the success he had against New Orleans and so far, so good.
On Sunday, Fitzpatrick joined Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes as two of the only three quarterbacks in NFL history with at least four touchdown passes in each of their team’s first two games of a season. Drew Blesdoe was the only other quarterback to accomplish that feat, which he did back in 1997 with the Patriots.
Fitzpatrick connected on two 75-yard touchdown passes in Week 2, one to wide receiver DeSean Jackson and the other to tight end O.J. Howard. He now has four touchdown passes of at least 50 yards this season, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Namath (four in 1972) for the most 50-plus yard touchdown passes through a team’s first two games of a season in NFL history.
To say Fitzpatrick has impressed while filling in for Winston would be an understatement. And the Bucs are now 2-0 with Fitzpatrick leading the offense, Tampa Bay’s best start to a season since 2010.
Historical look at Ryan Fitzpatrick
The Buccaneers are Fitzpatrick’s seventh NFL team, after starting with the Rams as a seventh-round draft pick in 2005. The Harvard graduate then moved on to the Bengals, Bills, Titans, Texans, and Jets before landing in Tampa Bay last year. The journeyman has never averaged better than a 63.1 completion percentage in a season, and his season-high in touchdowns was 31, in 2015 with the Jets.
The last time Fitzpatrick threw four touchdowns in a game was for the Jets in a November 2015 win against the Dolphins. He had a six touchdown game in 2014 for the Texans, against the Titans. Prior to the last two weeks, Fitzpatrick hadn’t had a 400-plus yard game since he was on the Titans in 2013; that one was also a four touchdown performance.
Fitzpatrick has certainly had good games, but overall he boasts a 59.8 completion percentage, a 177:136 touchdown-to-interception ratio, has fumbled 66 times, and has averaged out to an 80.6 passer rating during his time in the league. He’s a quality backup quarterback (that’s why he’s been around as long as he has), but Fitzpatrick has never been able to prove himself as a long-term starter.
Is Winston going to get his job back?
Winston’s suspension will be over in time for Week 4, and the Bucs could give him back his starting job. That was the expectation. But after the start Fitzmagic has had, it doesn’t seem Tampa Bay should be so willing to let Winston reclaim the starting role.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Fitzpatrick could remain the starter for at least one more week once Winston returns and the team will do what’s in its best interest, even “if that means riding the hot hand” and keeping Fitzpatrick as the starter.
The Buccaneers play the Steelers (whose defense has looked far from impressive) on Monday Night Football in Week 3, so they’ll be on a short week when Winston’s suspension expires. In Week 4, it’s a tough Bears defense awaiting the Bucs, so it might be smart to go with Fitzpatrick in that game. He’ll be in mid-season form at that point (as if he isn’t already) unlike Winston who won’t have played an NFL game since the preseason.
The reason Fitzpatrick is a backup quarterback — and has been for the majority of his NFL career — is because he’s inconsistent. He has great games (like the last two weeks) and he has bad games (like a Bucs vs. Jets 2017 game that saw him complete 50 percent of his passes, throw one touchdown and one interception or back-to-back games in 2016 in which his passer rating was below 21.5 in both games).
But if Fitzpatrick continues playing as well as he has, it’s realistic to believe the Buccaneers will continue using him as their starting quarterback. And if he falters, Winston will be there to reclaim his team. In three years as the Buccaneers’ starting quarterback, Wiston has averaged a 60.8 completion percentage and 87.2 passer rating as well as 23 touchdowns and 14.6 interceptions per year.
But as of now, the Buccaneers are Fitzpatrick’s team.
“It’s a quarterback’s dream to be in the huddle with those guys,’’ Fitzpatrick said after Sunday’s game. “I’m getting to do it with the guys up front. I’m getting time to survey the field and pick and choose. It was another day. We had our struggles. It wasn’t perfect. There was a little bit more of a grind than last week. We had our lull for a little bit. But the guys stayed on it and made plays when they had to.’’
As long as Fitzmagic keeps up his ... magic, expect him to continue starting for the Bucs.
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What fans are talking about
Tweet of the Day
Twitter is a ruthless place, and also a place where people often tweet at unintended targets. Zane Gonzalez is the name of the Browns kicker who missed two extra points and a potential game-winner with eight seconds remaining in the Browns’ loss to the Saints.
Zane Gonzalez is also the name of a graduate assistant for the University of Rio Grande’s baseball team who received quite a few messages from angry Cleveland fans after Sunday’s loss.