One more time: Bucs capture another huge upset

by Gary Shelton on September 17, 2018 · 13 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Ryan Fitzpatrick had another 400-yard afternoon./STEVEN MUNCIE

Monday, 4 a.m.

Call it the greatest story ever retold.

Fitzpatrick has never been better./STEVEN MUNCIE

It was the Tampa Bay Bucs, defying the odds and the analysts, the sequel.

It was Ryan Fitzmagic, the amazing man with the beard, shocking an opponent, version 2.0.

It was a crew of talented receivers winding through another confused secondary, one more time.

It was a plucky team of big players and big plays, coming up with a stunning upset for the second straight week. And if some of the stories is a repeat from what it was a week ago, well, that's okay. The Bucs have seen the film before, and they approve.


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Jackson scored on a 75-yard touchdown./STEVEN MUNCIE

The Bucs beat the defending World Champion Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, jumping to a huge lead and then holding on. Once again, Fitzpatrick threw for more than 400 yards and four touchdowns, which is sure to cause quite the debate when suspended starter Jameis Winston gets out of the NFL-mandated time-out.

Once again, the Bucs struggled to run the ball, especially late. Once again, kicker Chandler Catanzaro made people nervous with a missed extra point. Once again, the opposition made it close, but a key third down ate time off of the clock for the Bucs.

Can we hear it for "ditto."

Chris Godwin caught a touchdown pass for Bucs./STEVEN MUNCIE

Once again, the heavy favorites made the Bucs a little nervous at the end, but only a little.

For the Bucs, the difference between the win over Philly and last week's win over New Orleans was the improved play of the defense.

Regardless, the Bucs are 2-0 for the first time since 2010. And all of those who picked a perfectly lousy finish for Tampa Bay (the Sporting News picked them to finish 1-15), are left to clear their throats.

So what was your favorite image of the day? Was it DeSean Jackson, weaving 75 yards with a pass from Fitzpatrick on the game's first play? Was it O.J. Howard, streaking down the sidelines with another 75-yard touchdown catch? Was it Chris Godwin's touchdown catch, or Mike Evans'? Was it Gerald McCoy's sack of Nick Foles?

Peyton Barber didn't see a lot of daylight./STEVEN MUNCIE

How about this picture?

Fitzpatrick strode into his press conference Sunday afternoon dressed in Early American Bling. He was wearing sunglasses, and there was a heavy gold chain around his neck. Another necklace, this one with a diamond-crusted silver emblem, hung there. He had on a gold bracelet and a sweat-suit top. It looked like it came from either Seigfield or Roy, but in fact, it was all borrowed from DeSean Jackson. "The chest hair," Fitzpatrick said, "is mine."

Such is the mirth that ensues when a team is winning. And who could have foreseen upsets over highly regarded opponents.

This one was amazing. Consider Fitzpatrick, who hit 27 of 33 for 402 yards and

Mike Evans caught 10 passes for the Bucs./STEVEN MUNCIE

four scores. He ended with a rating of 144.4. But consider this. If his second-quarter pass to O.J. Howard had not bounded out of Howard's hands when a helmet hit the ball and shot up into the air, where it was intercepted, if it had been ruled a fumble (and Fitzpatrick did all he could do), then Fitzpatrick's rating would have been 157.0. That would have made two straight weeks Fitzpatrick would have had a rating in excess of 156.0. A rating of 158.3 is the highest possible.

Fitzpatrick is only the third player in NFL history to throw for four touchdowns in his team's first two wins, joining Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes (2018) and New England's Drew Bledsoe (1997). He joins Tom Brady (2011) and Cam Newton (2011) as the only players to have at least 400 yards in the first two games of the season.  He's the third player since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to have consecutive games with 400 yards and four touchdowns, joining Dan Marino (1984) and Billy Volek (2004). He has four touchdown passes of 50-plus yards, tying Joe Namath (1972) for the most in the first two games of the season.

"Really good play," said Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter. "Really good quarterback play. Extremely efficient. He's putting the ball on the money, letting our playmakers make plays."

Not only that, but he's won over the fans.

"That was cool when they played the Magic song after the one touchdown. Ryan deserves everything he's getting right now. He's playing great football, so why not?"

Ryan Smith had his best day as a Buc./STEVEN MUNCIE

In other words, we are seeing something historic. In two weeks, Fitzpatrick has hit 48 of 61 passes for 819 yards and eight touchdowns.

There for a while, of course, you wanted the Bucs to continue to let Fitzpatrick throw. The Bucs' running game struggled mightily, and on their last series, Tampa Bay ran the ball six times for minus one yard. Their last four runs were for zero yards.

"I don't know that I have (started a season so hot)," Fitzpatrick said. "It's such a great feeling out there. The pass to O.J., to sit there and watch him take off down the sideline. That's a tight end scoring on a 75-yard touchdown.

McCoy sacks the Eagles' Nick Foles./TIM WIRT

"It's  a quarterback's dream to be in that huddle with those guys. I'm getting time to do it with the guys up front, to survey the field and pick and choose. It was a little more of a grind than last week, but the guys stayed on it and made plays when they had to."

Said Mike Evans: "He's very locked in. It's fun to watch. We're very fortunate to have an experienced guy like him playing quarterback."

Nassib puts pressure on Foles./STEVEN MUNCIE

For the Bucs, the debate of whether Fitzpatrick or regular starter Jameis Winston starts in Week Four is coming. But no one has to make that call now. Fitzpatrick has one more game -- a week from Monday night against the Steelers -- before anyone has to decide.

Still, you can say this. It's hard to imagine Winston doing more than what Fitzpatrick has done in two games.

"He's just a guy who never gets too high, never gets too low," said Howard. "He's very passionate about the game. He's just so smart. He knows what are his zones and he knows how to make plays with his feet if he has to. He's just a very smart, veteran guy."

Adam Humphries makes a catch for Bucs./TIM WIRT

Said Jackson: "He's playing like he's 28, and I'm playing like I'm 24."

When a team wins, it seems that everyone gets the credit. Start with the Bucs' first play, when Fitzpatrick found Jackson for the 75-yard score. The hero? Try running back Peyton Barber.

"The story of that play -- they blitzed the corner," Fitzpatrick said. "They blitzed the right weak-side corner. It's the running backs' responsibility to protect me from that. That was probably the story of the play for me to have enough time to make that throw. With football, you've got to have all 11 guys on the same page. Nobody is going to talk about Barber on that play. But that's guys in their playbook expecting the unexpected and us taking advantage of it."

For the Bucs, there were other heroes. Koetter said it was far and away the best Ryan Smith has played on a hot field "that was like a fire pit."

Next week, Koetter is hoping for a different kind of pit when the Steelers come to town on Monday night.  The Bucs, already one of the main topics in the NFL, can keep analysts talking about them if they can pull off the victory.

Does anyone expect it?

And if not, isn't that the point?

O.J. Howard fights to get free./STEVEN MUNCIE





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