Fitzmagic leads the Bucs to upset of New Orleans

by Gary Shelton on September 10, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Fitzpatrick upset the Saints because of his arm.../CARMEN MANDATO

Monday, 4 a.m.

His bones are old. His eyesight might be fading. His arteries may be harder than they once were.

But Ryan Fitzpatrick still has a bit of Fitzmagic to him.

Fitzpatrick, the quarterback you doubted, the quarterback everyone doubted, stunned even the most optimistic of Tampa Bay Bucs' fans on Sunday afternoon. Faced with mounting odds, Fitzpatrick was close to flawless as he directed the Bucs to a 48-40 upset victory over the New Orleans Saints.

"Fitzmagic is alive and well," said Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter. "Quite a start, huh? “He’s got it in him. You saw it. His demeanor is always so laid back. You never know if he’s up or down. It’s just like practice during the game, even though he is aware of what is going on. I think that is one of the benefits of having a guy with his experience. Fitz is just a solid, solid guy. He is not going to let too much rattle him.”

...And because of his legs in a memorable games./CARMEN MANDATO

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The Saints, if you remember, were the pick of most analysts to win the NFC South, and some saw them going to the Super Bowl. They had the amazing Drew Brees, who has 16 wins against the Bucs. They had the sensational Alvin Kamara. They were at home.

Jackson caught two long touchdown passes./CARMEN MANDATO

And they had to scramble for the game's  final 16 points to even make it close.

Fitzpatrick, closing in on his 36th birthday, hit 21 of 28 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns, a staggering rating of 156.2 (the second highest in team history) to outduel Brees. Fitzpatrick also scrambled for a key 12-yard run on third-and-11 late in the game to allow the Bucs to run out the clock. It was Fitzpatrick's third win in four starts for the Bucs over the last two seasons.

“It was a lot of fun to score on virtually every possession," Fitzpatrick said. "It had nothing to do with who we were going against. You could see the confidence we had going into the game. The ball was getting spread around early. It wasn’t just the Mike Evans show out there or the DeSean Jackson show. It was everybody. Chris (Godwin) made some nice catches, O.J. (Howard), everybody. That’s fun when everybody’s getting involved.”

Evans had a big day for Tampa Bay./CARMEN MANDATO

The scary thing, of course, is just how many the Bucs could have scored if they had been a little cleaner.

For instance:

-- Adam Humphries had a 65-yard reception just before the end of the first half called back.

-- Fitzpatrick overthrew a wide-open Chris Godwin after a Saints' cornerback fell down.

-- Chandler Catanzaro missed a clinching 48-yard field goal late in the game.

-- The Bucs had to settle for a field goal on a first-and-goal situation from the 3.

O.J. Howard catches a pass for the Bucs./CARMEN MANDATO

Still, it was an impressive performance by Tampa Bay. Fitzpatrick used all of his receives, spreading the ball around like a point guard. Mike Evans caught seven passes for 148 yards and a 50-yard score. DeSean Jackson caught five passes for 147 yards, including touchdown catches of 58 yards and 36 yards.

That wasn't all. Peyton Barber averaged 3.6 yards per carry, and the line didn't give up a sack.

"Everything starts with protection," Koetter said. "Protection beats coverage. We talked about that all week. Protection beats coverage."

Evans returned a fumble 34 yards for Bucs./CARMAN MANDATO

It was the type of afternoon to make you think that those who say this might be the best Bucs' offense ever might be onto something.

"I think in general we have that confidence right now, regardless of what the play is," Fitzpatrick said. "The talent level in that huddle of guys who can go up and make plays, it’s a pretty special group. I’m glad that we showed it today, but now it’s about consistency week in and week out.”

Pertinent observation at this point: The Sporting News picked the Bucs to go 1-15 this year. It can be assumed that the website thinks they will go winless

Ryan Jensen and his linemates didn't allow a sack./CARMEN MANDATO

the rest of the season.

If the Bucs left you with a concern, it was the play of their own defense. Tampa Bay forced only eight incompletions on the 45 throws of Brees, who threw for 439 yards. Again, Brees led the Saints to the game's final 16 points to make it close. There wasn't enough of a pass rush, and there weren't enough plays made by the secondary.

But the offense? It was humming all afternoon.

“We can be very special," said tight end O.J. Howard. "You saw so many guys

Chris Goddwin celebrates a touchdown catch./CARMEN MANDATO

got involved today in the passing game. O-line played great. We run blocked. Everybody gave good effort. Our group is so special and I just think everyone has to keep doing the little things right and it’s only up from here.”

If you wonder what Saints' coach Sean Payton thought, it wasn't pretty.

“Take your pick," Payton said, when asked about the problems of his defense. "We did not hurry the passer. Guys were open. Third downs were awful. They had over 500 yards. We didn’t disrupt the timing to any element of the passing game and too many penalties. I can’t think of any positives.

"Tampa Bay came ready and they put it to us. They put it to us good.”

Humpries has a 10-yard punt return./CARMEN MANDATO

So what did you learn? You learned that Fitzpatrick is better than most people thought. You learned that Ronald Jones has a ways to go. You learned that the defensive production doesn't match the personnel. You learned the Catanzaro is a good kicker, but he's not perfect. You learned that this team has more fight than you might have thought.

You learned there is a long way to go, but it was a good first step.

The Bucs are home next Sunday against the World Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Game time is 1 p.m.



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