Now we pay attention. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had that kind of game on Sunday with a 48-40 win at New Orleans, led by backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and his four touchdown passes and one touchdown run and an offense that was explosive with eight passing plays of 20 or more yards. It was a shocking win, a huge victory on the road against a team many believe will be a Super Bowl contender.
Next up, Tampa Bay. A serious team with an offense that rolled up 529 total net yards.
“Quite a start, huh?” head coach Dirk Koetter said to begin his postgame press conference. “To win on the road, division team, NFC team, in a place like this, against a team like that, against a quarterback (Drew Brees) like that, that’s huge. That’s a huge way to start your season. Are you kidding me? That’s a huge plus.”
With a receiving group that includes receivers Mike Evans (7 catches, 147 yards, touchdown), DeSean Jackson (two touchdown catches of 58 and 36 yards), Chris Godwin (3-41-1), and a strong tight end group led by O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, the Buccaneers have as difficult to defend a receiving corps as any team in the league. Fitzpatrick, playing for the suspended Jameis Winston, completed 21 of 28 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns and added 36 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
“FitzMagic,” they’re calling it in Tampa.
Fitzpatrick is in his 14th NFL season and he’s played with the St. Louis Rams, the Bengals, the Bills, the Titans, Houston, the New York Jets, and now Tampa Bay. Fourteen seasons, seven teams. A journeyman’s career. Fitzpatrick was brilliant on Sunday in New Orleans and he, and the offense, are to be respected on Sunday when the Eagles take to the road for Week 2.
“The talent level in that huddle, guys who can go up and make plays, it’s a pretty special group and I’m glad we showed it today,” Fitzpatrick said. “But now, it’s about consistency and being able to do it week in and week out and continue to make those plays.”
It certainly wasn’t all perfect for the Bucs, who gave up 439 yards and three touchdown passes to Brees and a Saints offense that came storming back, but fell short, in the fourth quarter.
All of this is a reminder of just how unpredictable the NFL can be, particularly early in the season. Who gave Tampa Bay a chance at New Orleans? Who thought that a Tampa Bay offense minus Winston could outscore the power of Brees, running back Alvin Kamara, and the terrific Saints offense? In New Orleans, one of the most intimidating stadiums in the league?
“They’re a good offense with weapons,” head coach Doug Pederson said of the Buccaneers when we talked in studio on Friday.
Tampa Bay’s victory certainly deserved attention. The Bucs played without Winston on offense and cornerback Brent Grimes on defense. They didn’t run the ball well at all, but it didn’t matter as “FitzMagic” – his arms and his legs – carved up the Saints' defense. They’ll have to evaluate some injuries from the win, notably a concussion suffered by Jackson and a shoulder injury sustained by cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, but the beat goes on in the NFL, as the Eagles know so well.
Fitzpatrick showed once again why having a quality backup quarterback is so vital. He pulled off the upset of the weekend in the NFL.
A weekend off for the Eagles after the 18-12 win over Atlanta on Thursday night allowed an opportunity to watch the rest of the league. The Giants' offense struggled, particularly at the line of scrimmage, but Saquon Barkley took his one real running lane to the house as a sign of things to come. Dallas also had its troubles moving the ball with an erratic Dak Prescott throwing to receivers who couldn’t create separation. Washington pasted Arizona with a balanced offense and a defense that flummoxed quarterback Sam Bradford (no surprise, really).
Sunday ended with quarterback Aaron Rodgers returning from an earlier injury and providing juice in a fourth-quarter Green Bay comeback victory over Chicago, a loss for new Bears head coach Matt Nagy eerily similar to the loss Andy Reid had in his first game as Eagles head coach back in 1999.
The league nursed its bumps and bruises overnight. The Eagles? They are fresh as can be after a mini-bye weekend, knowing a tricky-tough battle in Tampa against the Bucs awaits.