View exclusive, behind-the-scenes photos of the Buccaneers' Week 1 matchup against the New Orleans Saints from Team Photographer Kyle Zedaker
"Fitzmagic is alive and well."
That was according to Coach Koetter following Sunday's win over the division-rival New Orleans Saints at the Superdome. Making his sixth career Week One start, and first with the Buccaneers, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns plus a rushing touchdown of his own. It all culminated in an insane 156.2 passer rating – a.k.a. darn near perfect, which is 158.3 in case you were wondering. What was perhaps even more impressive was that Fitzpatrick kept multiple drives alive with his feet. His biggest play of the game may not have been one of those aforementioned touchdowns he accounted for, but instead a 12-yard run on third down late in the fourth quarter. With the Bucs up by one score, New Orleans was out of timeouts and couldn't stop the clock. The Bucs needed just one more first down to finish the game and with no one open, Fitzpatrick took it himself to seal the win. Fitzpatrick was poised and made excellent decisions in a statement game that seemed to say the Bucs will be just fine with him under center.
The Bucs had a pair of receivers with over 140 yards for the first time ever.
After being touted as one of the most impressive units during training camp, the Bucs' wide receivers lived up to the hype behind that incredible performance by Fitzpatrick. Both veteran receivers DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans caught a touchdown pass and in Jackson's case – two. Jackson had 146 yards on five catches and scored his first touchdown on the Bucs' first possession of the game on a 58-yard bomb from Fitzpatrick downfield. His next touchdown was nothing to snuff at either, as he beat Saints' cornerback Ken Crawley on a double move cutting into the center of the field and hauling in a 36-yard pass. Speaking of beating the Saints' secondary, Mike Evans' touchdown came as he beat Saints' cornerback Marshon Lattimore down the far sideline, freeing him up to make the catch uncontested and run it into the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown. Evans finished the day with 147 yards on seven receptions. You all wanted the long ball – you got it.
The defense was better than you think.
Yes, the Saints put up 475 yards of total offense – which is a lot and nine out of 10 times, when a team does that against you, you're not going to be marked in the win column that week. The Bucs had never won a game in which they gave up 35 or more points before Sunday. But let's take a look at some more individual aspects of the defense, namely: rushing defense. The Saints had just 43 net rushing yards on the day, making for a dismal 3.3 yards per play average. Running back Alvin Kamara had only 29 rushing yards. Granted, he got most of his yards through the air with 121 receiving, and the defense should be held accountable for that, but if you don't have a quarterback like Drew Brees and you don't have a player like Alvin Kamara (which most do not), the Bucs completely eliminated the ground game and forced the Saints to keep throwing. New Orleans had a 44 percent third-down conversion rate, having success on just four of nine attempts, probably due in large part to being stuck in third-and-long situations where the Bucs were expecting the pass.
Then there are the takeaways. The Bucs managed to force and recover two fumbles, one of which was immediately returned by safety Justin Evans for a touchdown. Winning the turnover battle is crucial and with a complementary offensive effort that didn't turn the ball over, the Bucs were able to win that battle on Sunday. One of the forced fumbles was by linebacker Kwon Alexander, who tied with fellow linebacker Lavonte David for the team lead with nine combined tackles on the afternoon. Both linebackers were all over the field, likely a result of being freed up from bringing pressure because the defensive line handled that on their own. The Buccaneers managed the only sack of the game as defensive end Vinny Curry dropped Brees for a loss of seven yards. Getting pressure on Brees is no easy task either, he was sacked just 20 times last season. Part of it is also due to his extremely quick release and options, like running back Alvin Kamara, for him to take advantage of underneath. The secondary underwent quite a bit of shifting throughout the game. Veteran corner Brent Grimes was a late addition to the injury report on Friday with a groin injury, forcing the likes of Carlton Davis III and M.J. Stewart (both rookies) into game action against a high-powered Saints offense and future Hall of Fame quarterback in an extremely hostile environment. Not an easy task. But once the secondary settles in this week to a more predictable rotation, there should be things that will be cleaned up come the Bucs' home opener.
The offensive line was a forcefield.
It's funny the butterfly effect an insane quarterback performance has. One of the reasons Fitzpatrick had such an impressive day? His offensive line protected him. At all costs. Which even came in the form of a penalty in the case of center Ryan Jensen. The Saints were called for back-to-back roughing the passer penalties and frankly, Jensen got fed up. He drew a 15-yard penalty as part of his effort to protect his quarterback from any more cheap shots. Left guard Ali Marpet got in on the first one, too, drawing a personal foul penalty on top of the roughing the passer penalty from the Saints' defensive line after he made sure anyone wanting to get to Fitzpatrick would have to go through him first. More importantly, the line didn't allow a sack and opened up some crucial running lanes for running back Peyton Barber. The Bucs had 112 net yards rushing thanks to Barber and Fitzpatrick's legs. While the offense still relied heavily on the pass, having Barber break loose on a couple of runs still kept the Saints guessing and that was due in part to the efforts of the offensive line.