The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their season-opener in rousing fashion, 48-40 over the division-rival Saints, but as is often the case in such situations, they suffered some losses as well.
Most notably, starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who was off to a fast start, was lost for the season after suffering a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter. Furthermore, wide receiver DeSean Jackson saw his big afternoon – five catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns – abruptly interrupted by a concussion and a shoulder injury sustained on a 36-yard sideline catch.
Defensive end Jason Pierre Paul also left the Saints game early with a knee injury, though he did later return to action and ended up with 48 snaps on defense. On Wednesday, when the week of practice began for the Bucs' Week Two game against Philadelphia, neither Jackson nor Pierre-Paul were on the field. Given that Tampa Bay will have to go through the defending NFL champions if they want to get to 2-0 for the first time since 2010, it would be an even more difficult task with one of their biggest play-makers on each side of the ball unavailable.
And so it was good news on Thursday when both Jackson and Pierre-Paul returned to action on the practice field, albeit in a limited fashion. They were two of the four Buccaneers who were limited on Thursday, along with offensive line starters Donovan Smith (knee) and Caleb Benenoch (knee). Cornerback Brent Grimes (groin) and defensive tackle Vita Vea (calf) remained out.
The Bucs would like for Jackson to have a chance to continue the momentum he began building at the very beginning of training camp in late July. The veteran receiver was one of the Bucs' top performers throughout August and he obviously carried that into the first game of the regular season.
Best Photos from Bucs Practice, Sept. 13
View photos from the Buccaneers' practice Thursday at AdventHealth Training Center.
"DeSean’s had a lot of games like that in his career," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "That’s the first one he’s had here, and he had chances to make plays and he made them. He did a really nice job. We were trying to get DeSean more involved last year, we just weren’t successful at it. He came out and had a really strong camp as far as his work ethic. Him putting in the commitment to getting better at it and the quarterbacks as well. We’re off to a good start."
Pierre-Paul didn't record a sack in his first Buccaneer game, but the Bucs' defensive line as a whole didn't make a huge impact against Drew Brees and the Saints. Vinny Curry, a member of the Eagles' 2017 championship squad, had the team's one sack. The Buccaneers have tried to model a deep rotation of pass-rushers off what Curry and the Eagles did last year, but with Vea out that would become increasingly difficult if Pierre-Paul is also sidelined.
"The fact that he went back in and played – when you’re in a real game and you only have 46 guys, when guys go down, everybody has to suck it up," said Koetter of Pierre-Paul's return to action in New Orleans. "You only have so many guys in the game plan. It’s impressive that he went back in and gave it a go. That part’s good, but we still didn’t get enough pressure."
For his part, Pierre-Paul is eager to get cleared for action against a team he became quite familiar with during eight years as a New York Giant. More than rekindling his own rivalries, though, he wants to be on the field when Curry and another former Eagle, Beau Allen, get their chance to battle their old teammates.
"I want to make it out Sunday because of those guys," said Pierre-Paul. "Coming from a different team, and they let you go, I know they probably [have] a chip on their shoulders. I would have a chip on my shoulder, so I can’t wait to play the Giants – that’s a whole [different] day. If I was those guys, I’d have a chip on my shoulder. You let me go – I’m going out there to show you should’ve never let me go. When I come out there, I want to hear my name on the intercom as much as possible. That’s how I’ll be feeling."
The Buccaneers will have another practice on Friday and hopefully will have Jackson and Pierre-Paul on the field with them. That would increase the chances that they're on the Raymond James Stadium field on Sunday, potentially providing the Bucs with the big plays they need.
Best Photos of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick From Week 1 vs. Saints
View some of the best photos of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick from the Week 1 game vs. the Saints.
AWARDS SEASON: Ryan Fitzpatrick won his first NFC Offensive Player of the Week award three days after his 23rd birthday. He won his first Player of the Week award before he had even made his first NFL start.
A seventh-round draft pick out of Harvard in 2005, Fitzpatrick joined a team that had the accomplished Marc Bulger as its starting quarterback. When Bulger suffered a pair of shoulder injuries at midseason, he was replaced by journeyman Jamie Martin, who would win four of his five starts. But on November 27, 2005, Martin suffered his own injury on the Rams' last play of the first quarter and Fitzpatrick took over in the second quarter. The Rams were already down 14-0 at that point, and it would be 21-3 at the half, but then Fitzpatrick took over. He would throw for 310 yards and three touchdowns and run for another 23 yards in leading the Rams to a comeback 33-27 victory.
Fitzpatrick didn't win another Player of the Week award until he was 32 years old, and by then he was with the Texans. He's had a rush of them late in his career, however, with that second one in 2014 then two more in 2015 and another one in 2016.
And, of course, Fitzpatrick took home another Offensive Player of the Week trophy this week after his 417-yard, four-touchdown explosion in the Bucs Week One win over New Orleans. That means there's a gap of 13 years between the first such award he won and the last one (so far). The Player of the Week awards were introduced in the NFL in 1984 but Fitzpatrick is just the seventh player to win one at least 13 years after he won his first one.
The other six, unsurprisingly are all fellow quarterbacks, and it's essentially a who's who of the greatest passers of the generation. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady both had 16-year gaps between their first and most recent (so far, at least, for Brady, while Dan Marino had a 15-year separation and both John Elway and Brett Favre had 14-year gaps. Ben Roethlisberger won his first as a rookie in 2014 and his most recent last year, a 13-year gap like Fitzpatrick's.
This might not be the last such award for Fitzpatrick, though. He feels like he's at the top of his game, even 14 years into his career.
"I think [with] all the different experiences I’ve had I just continue to become a better player whether people think that or see that or not," he said. "I’m better right now than I’ve been in any point in my career and a lot of that is just mentally and whatever else. There’s a lot of different throws and things that are so much engrained in you. So much muscle memory from working and doing it for a long time. I feel like the older I’ve gotten the better I’ve become."
Fitzpatrick will get more chances, as he'll start at least the next two games with Jameis Winston still serving his NFL suspension. And while he's never lacked for confidence in his own abilities, Fitzpatrick is gratified by the obvious confidence his teammates have in him.
"Confidence is a huge thing," he said. "More so than my confidence in myself…is when you’re in the huddle whether you’re the starter or you’re the backup, when you step in to that huddle, you can feel it. You can feel it from the play-caller. You can feel it from those guys looking at you whether they have confidence in you or not and I think that’s the biggest thing. To be able to step in the huddle and to feel that that group is confident that you’re standing in there, which comes with time, comes with whatever else, comes with your demeanor, your moxie, whatever it is – I think that’s one of the most important things for overall confidence."
GOOD START FOR A ROOKIE: The Buccaneers kept all eight of their 2018 draft picks on the 53-man roster, along with undrafted rookie running back Shaun Wilson. When it came to the first game of their collective first season, the two biggest storylines for the new crop of Buccaneer rookies was the ones who didn't play (Vita Vea, Ronald Jones, Alex Cappa and Justin Watson) and the two cornerbacks who were thrown into the fire against Drew Brees.
Quietly, another member of Tampa Bay's 2018 draft class had a successful NFL debut. Jack Cichy, a sixth-round linebacker out of Wisconsin who missed his entire senior season with a knee injury, made an impact on special teams that was particularly encouraging for a player in his first regular-season outing.
Late in the first quarter, after the Buccaneers had taken a 14-10 lead on a Fitzpatrick touchdown run, Cichy tripped up return man Tommylee Lewis at the 26-yard line on the ensuing kickoff. In the second quarter, Lewis brought another kickoff out from two yards deep in the end zone and was cutting from his left to his right when Cichy made a flying tackle to drop him at the 17-yard line. Getting involved in the action that quickly gave the rookie linebacker a quick jolt of confidence.
"It was nice to kind of get my feet wet," said Cichy. "It was a lot different than the preseason, but it was nice to get a feel for that speed of the game. Everything seemed to develop quicker. What you're seeing from the guys on Day One with the 53-man roster, it's probably a little bit more of an accurate picture of what the team is trying to do than what the preseason might give you. So it was easier to trust your reads and I was able to play fast. I got involved early in kickoff so that was nice to get those jitters out of the way.
" I definitely feel good about it. There's obviously a lot to improve on, a lot I can do better, but I just need to keep taking advantage of those opportunities. If I keep doing that, I think I'll like where I'm at."
Cichy actually drew a penalty on the second tackle because he launched himself threw a would-be blocker in order to get at Lewis. It was an impressive feat of NFL athleticism, essentially taking down two players at once, but it was deemed at the time to be a "low block."
Despite the penalty, Cichy said his coaches were fine with the play as it wasn't drawn out of malice or being out of control. In fact, Koetter submitted the play to the league for review in order to get a better understanding of what Cichy had done wrong. Koetter said it was "tough call" for the rookie and that it was just a penalty they'd have to live with. As for Cichy's efforts on those two plays, Koetter was impressed.
"Yeah he did a nice job," said the coach. "He did what you’re third, fourth and fifth linebackers, they’ve got to be stalwarts on special teams and Adarius [Taylor] has been since he’s been here. Cam Lynch has been since he’s been here and for other teams and so Jack’s the one new guy in that rotation. He’s got to do it."