Once again, Fitzpatrick tries to excel for Bucs

by Gary Shelton on November 2, 2018 · 2 comments

in general

Fitzpatrick has excelled going deep./JEFFREY S. KING

Friday, 4 a.m.

When he was the age of Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick was still hoping to win a game in the NFL.

He was an afterthought, a seventh round draft pick, and no one made room for Fitzpatrick when he joined the St. Louis Rams. When he was 24, Winston's current age, he had started only three games, and he had lost them all.

When he had Winston's experience, finally, he, too, struggled with interceptions. Winston has thrown 54 in 49 games. In his first 49 games, Fitzpatrick threw 49 interceptions, and his interception rate was higher than Winston's.

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When he had Winston's yardage totals, Fitzpatrick was 30 years old, in his last year in Buffalo. If was in the middle of November when he passed Winston's total of 12,817 yards.

The difference?

Fitzpatrick got better. At this point, we do not know if Winston will.

What we do know is that, just shy of his 36th birthday, Fitzpatrick is off to one of his finest starts. In his four starts, he has a 2-2 record, and he's thrown for 13 touchdowns against only five interceptions. The Bucs hope his play continues to impress Sunday in a game against Carolina.

In particular, Fitzpatrick has thrown the deep ball well.

“I think Ryan has just done a really good job of putting the ball on the money," Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter said. "On the deep ball, sometimes that’s over the inside shoulder, sometimes it’s over the outside shoulder, sometimes it’s a back shoulder — like the one right in front of our bench last week to Mike (Evans). Depending on what kind of a deep ball — just a go route and they cover it, back shoulder, go route he beats him, outside on the outside shoulder, the deep post over the inside shoulder — he’s just consistently put the ball where it needs to be put.

"We have guys that have been getting open over the top on all those kind of routes and we have size to throw back shoulders and he’s just hit them at a consistent rate, put the ball on the money and they’ve made the plays for him.”

Fitzpatrick, who made some veteran quarterbacks scoff when he signed with the Bucs, has now won four games over the past two seasons.

“For the most part, he’s played really, really well," said offensive coordinator Todd Monken. "The Steelers' second quarter, we had a fumble by Chris Godwin, we had a ball where he could’ve thrown it better – Mike (Evans) stops on his route. We have another, we’re backed up and his arm gets hit.

"There’s some of those things at the end of the half against the Bears – if Cam (Brate) doesn’t get the passing interference we don’t go to the next play — some of those things lend itself to that. I said when we first started playing Fitz in the beginning of the year when we went 2-1 last year, ‘I have no concerns with Ryan Fitzpatrick as our quarterback.’ He’s a good football player like all of the guys that make our team are good football players. We’ve got to do better as coaches and as players.”

Of Fitzpatrick's 13 scoring passes, five have been for 50 yards or more. Three more were 18 yards or more.

Monken said he knew the reason that Fitzpatrick is so good at throwing deep.

“Experience," Monken said. "He’s got tremendous touch, we’ve got good players, so that comes with it. I thought Jameis (Winston) for the most part he threw really a couple really nice deep balls. One to D-Jack (DesSean Jackson) that they had been working on, and then one to Mike on a big third down in the wind, I thought was really, really good. Then there were some others that wasn’t good enough. That’s what Fitz does. He does a really nice job in terms of his ball placement. I think that’s probably the best way to put it.”

Fitz said it was because of his receivers.

“I think it starts with the talent we have on the outside and the playmakers and a tight end that can catch one and take it 75 (yards)," Fitzpatrick said. "We don’t have average players on the outside. I think that’s a lot of it. The deep ball is something for a while in my career that I struggled with, just in terms of accuracy and other things.

"Throwing to so many different guys and getting it figured out just for me personally – I think it’s different for every quarterback — but for me personally just getting certain things figured out those and the amount of people I’ve thrown to I think that’s really helped me. I’ve gotten better and better as my career has gone on. I didn’t have a strong arm to start with, so it’s not like it’s getting any stronger. I think I’ve become much more accurate on those 30-plus yard throws. That’s just something I continue to improve on as I keep playing.”

Sometimes, such as Sunday's 72-yard throw to Evans, Fitzpatrick has changed the play.

“Every time I’m going into the game as a starter, I’ll sit down with Coach Monk (Monken) on Friday," Fitzpatrick said. "What we did this offseason in terms of putting some different stuff into our offense that we could get to versus advantageous looks. We’ll sit and we’ll just talk about parameters because I think that’s a big thing with me. I really enjoy that part of the game, but I also need parameters.

"We’ll just sit and talk and I’ll tell him what’s on my mind, and then he’ll tell me what is  on his mind and things we like and don’t like. We’ll just have that open dialogue on Friday to make sure we’re on the same page and go from there. A lot of it is stuff that we’ll work on throughout the week. I think as an offense we’ve done a good job of that. With Coach Monken, I think he’s done a nice job just the communication aspect with me and the rest of the guys.”

Koetter had an example.

“A good example — the double move to Mike (Evans) in the game," Koetter said. "You’re hardly going to get a guy that wide open. That was all Fitz. We had a play going to the left, Fitz saw what they were in, switched it to something going to the right and a double move. That’s an impressive play. No more so than Jameis (Winston) does in our offense.

"Fitz has played longer. He’s just seen more. I’d say where Fitz is — he recognizes stuff out of his past that may be unscouted looks, maybe stuff that we didn’t necessarily work on — but that’s just experience.”

Much of Thursday's conversation was about Fitzpatrick, of course. Winston, too, had some things to say.

“I don’t feel any pressure," Winston said. "Like I said, it’s a setback, but it’s a minor setback for a major comeback. Again, it just tells me you’ve got to continue to get better. Like you said, I’ve never been in this situation before, so I have to learn from it, I have to grow from it. I have no choice.

"What doesn’t kill you will always make you stronger. This [is] definitely a humbling process. It’s a chance for me to learn and sit behind Fitz kind of like I did last year. I learned so much from him when I was injured. I got a chance to just analyze his game and see how he does things.”

In the meantime, it is Fitzpatrick's game. And, oh, about those touchdown celebrations ...

"Something just takes over the body for a few seconds," Fitzpatrick said. "Especially the guys up front, I like celebrating with those guys on the long touchdowns and any of them really. The secret with them is that a lot of times on the long touchdowns, they don’t like to run all the way down to the end zone, so they stay back and celebrate with me and then saunter up for the extra point. That’s part of the reason.”

The Bucs hope there are a few celebrations Sunday. The Panthers have the 13th-ranked total defense in the league, eighth against the run.

Game time is 1 p.m. in Charlotte.









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