Last Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scored 15 points to the New York Jets' 10, thus getting the win in their first game with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starting quarterback. As a result, Fitzpatrick's own numbers in the game's stat sheet weren't of much concern. For the record, though, he completed 17 of 34 passes for 187 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Fitzpatrick certainly did enough for his team to win while filling in for the injured Jameis Winston He played complementary football with the Bucs' defense and special teams, which won the field-position battle, produced a positive turnover ratio and capitalized on all three field goal opportunities. Still, 15 points will not be enough to win every Sunday, and in some games the Buccaneers' offense will have to carry the day.
That offense had some prolific outings in the season's first six weeks but has dipped in recent weeks. Fitzpatrick has at least one more game to lead the Buccaneers' attack, and he is eager to get more out of it after feeling as if he "left some plays on the field" against the Jets.
"I came away from watching that game obviously happy and excited that we won, but kind of excited at the prospect of getting another shot at it and hopefully doing a better job," he said. "There were some plays out there that I could've made that would've made us a lot more effective."
The Buccaneers' two longest drives of the day, which produced a first-quarter field goal and a fourth-quarter touchdown, were marked mostly by runs and quick passes. On the first one, Tampa Bay ran on every first down and Fitzpatrick converted three short to medium-range third downs with quick underneath passes to DeSean Jackson, Cam Brate and Chris Godwin. Jackson had two nice catch-and-run plays on short throws on the drive for a total of 39 yards. On the fourth-quarter, the biggest gain was a 21-yard sweep by Charles Sims on third-and-13, and Doug Martin ran four times to get it from the Jets' 27 down to the six before Sims' touchdown catch.
In the end, the Buccaneers had just 271 yards of offense, their second-lowest mark of the season, and it was enough. But Fitzpatrick didn't just throw short passes all afternoon. He tried a deep one down the right sideline to Godwin just before the Bucs' second field goal, but it missed. He went deep twice in DeSean Jackson's direction, one on that first field goal drive that just missed and one that was picked off but erased by a penalty. After Brent Grimes returned an interception to the Jets' 32, the Bucs tried to go right for the kill, with Fitzpatrick throwing deep down the middle towards Godwin, but it was picked off.
Fitzpatrick threw three touchdown passes during his two relief performances in Arizona and New Orleans, one on a pretty go route to Mike Evans against the Cardinals. The Buccaneers have no intention of putting a wrap over the downfield passing game until Winston comes back.
"I think sometimes with different quarterbacks and different looks that you get, the ball is going to go [to] some different spots than [it] would with a different quarterback," said Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken. It wasn't like we [said], 'Hey, now we've got Fitz. Hey, let's not do these things.' We still try to throw it down the field. We had DeSean on a go route and then we had a take route to Chris that we threw an interception on. We had some other times when the ball was scheduled to go downfield, but the pass rush has something to do with that. I don't think it was really that. I think some of it has to do with the defense at times, where the quarterback's eyes take him first and who is playing the position.
"It's not like we are going to stop trying to throw it down the field. We are going to continue to do that. That's who we are – run play-action [and] continue to get better on third downs."
Fitzpatrick's second start comes in Miami, against a team he has faced 10 times, including four games over the past two seasons as the Jets' quarterback. He's certainly familiar with edge-rusher Cameron Wake and interior line-wrecker Ndamukong Suh. Those two could force Fitzpatrick to get rid of the ball quickly on occasion, but he's not planning on scrapping the deep passing game because of them.
"Not necessarily – I think that it's just going to be good decisions, whether it's shorter throws, intermediate throws or longer throws," said Fitzpatrick. "As long as I'm making good quick decisions and all of those are thrown on time then it shouldn't be that big of an issue."
Fitzpatrick's first start for his seventh team was missing one of the best things about being a Tampa Bay quarterback. Wide receiver Mike Evans was not there, as he was serving a one-game suspension due to an incident in the New Orleans game. Evans is back now and intent on finishing the season strong. Fitzpatrick now has the full complement of weapons – Evans, Jackson, Brate, Godwin, O.J. Howard and Adam Humphries – that made the Bucs' offense so prolific during a run of four straight games with 400-plus yards.
Fitzpatrick is excited about unlocking all of that talent, and in the process helping the Buccaneers get on a run in the second half of the season.
"I'm 100 percent positive that the belief in that locker room is that we can do it," he said. "We can continue to go out there and we are talented enough to win these games. It's not like we are going into games and we don't have a shot at it. We've got some really good players here. It is just a matter of me distributing the ball and getting them going. I think that confidence can turn into more wins."