I owe Ryan Fitzpatrick an apology. With Jameis Winston being suspended for the first three games of the season, I predicted that the Bucs fate over those first three games wouldn’t be decided by the veteran Quarterback but the rest of the team. Well, I was wrong. Fitzpatrick didn’t quite win it on his own, as he was more than ably supported by his teammates, but the games MVP was absolutely sensational as he had a career day in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The veteran QB finished the game with 21 out of 28 pass attempts, four touchdowns, zero interceptions, 417 passing yards and, incredibly, finished the day as the second top rusher of the day behind the Bucs Peyton Barber. Yes that’s right, Fitzpatrick finished the game with more rushing yards than Alvin Kamara and only two less rushing yards than the entire Saints’ backfield. It was fitting that a 12 yard scamper on a 3rd and 11 towards the end of the fourth quarter by Fitz sealed an incredible opening day victory on the road.
Pre-game, Tampa’s number one Cornerback, Brent Grimes, was ruled out with a groin injury which, when you are facing off against Drew Brees in New Orleans, is the last news you want to hear. Also inactive were both the Bucs first two draft picks from this years NFL Draft; 1st rounder, Defensive Tackle, Vitae Vea and 2nd rounder, Running Back, Ronald Jones.
With the Saints being heavy pre-game favourites, New Orleans started the game as expected as they practically waltzed their way, untouched, to an opening drive Touchdown courtesy of Alvin Kamara. No sign of the Tampa pass rush, and more worrying, no sign of any coverage by the Secondary.
Then the Bucs Offense took to the field under the direction of new Offensive Play-Caller, Todd Monken, as Head Coach, Dirk Koetter, decided to hand over the play-calling duties to his long time colleague. Monken didn’t waste anytime in going for the jugular as he out Sainted the Saints. A fantastic array of short, medium, deep passes, screens, check downs, Tampa were a joy to watch.
The Bucs scored on their first drive of the game as Fitz hooked up on a 58 yard bomb to DeSean Jackson. A play the Bucs had been waiting over a year to see. DeSean Jackson was signed as a Free Agent at the start of 2017 as a deep ball threat as the Bucs struggled throughout the entire 2017 season for explosive plays.
Tampa’s D was able to restrict the Saints on the next drive as New Orleans had to settle for a Field Goal to lead by 3.
Could the Bucs repeat their previous drive and cap it with a Touchdown? Yes was the answer as Fitzpatrick ran the ball in from the three yard line to give the Bucs their first lead of the game. Before the first quarter was out, Drew Brees drove his team down the field and finished of with a touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr as a breathless first 15 minutes finished with the Saints ahead 17-14.
On the next drive, it was Tampa’s time to settle for the three points as the game was evened up. Finally the first punt of the game, as the Buccaneers Defense stopped the Saints to a three and out and started their next drive deep in their own territory. No problem for Fitzpatrick as he drive his team down the field and ended with a touchdown pass to the impressive Chris Godwin as Tampa restored their lead.
On the ensuing kick-off return by New Orleans, the ball was fumbled and returned to the house by Safety, Justin Evans, to silence the home crowd and send the Bucs fans into dreamland as the Special Teams play gave Tampa a 14 point lead.
Of course, the Saints weren’t going to lie down and they reduced the deficit to seven points at the end of the half as Brees found a wide open Michael Thomas in the end zone as a confused Secondary could only watch.
With the Bucs deferring at the start of the first half, they received the ball at the beginning of the second half which resulted in another field goal for Tampa to extend their lead to 10 points. Three successive punts resulted with the ball being back in the hands of Fitzpatrick when he found Mike Evans one-on-one with Marshon Lattimore as the Bucs ran up, incredibly, their second 50 yard touchdown of the game.
On the following Saints’ possession, Kwon Alexander forced a fumble which was recovered by the Bucs to give Fitzpatrick another possession to steal the limelight. He did just that as he found DeSean Jackson on a 36 yard pass to give the visitors an unbelievable 48-24 lead in the 4th quarter.
With nothing to lose, New Orleans marched straight down the field and Kamara scored his second touchdown of the day and the addition of a 2-point conversion reduced the deficit to 16.
Tampa could then have killed the game on the next drive but a missed 44 yard field goal which would have ended the match as a contest gave the Saints renewed optimism as Brees dissected the Bucs’ Secondary, who had lost Vernon Hargreaves by this time, with ease and another 2-point conversion took the deficit down to eight points.
With the home crowd back on side, the Saints knew a three and out would give them one last shot of mounting what would have been an extraordinary comeback but it was fitting that Fitzpatrick killed any lingering Saints’ hope with his run to convert the 3rd and long and give Tampa Bay the luxury of three kneels to close out the game and start the season with a huge Divisional road win.
So for the third straight year, Tampa kick off the season with a win. Hopefully they don’t follow this win up with an absolute horror show as per their previous two seasons. With the Super Bowl champions next up for the Bucs at home, Fitzpatrick again will have to be at his very best to get something from this game. The Bucs Offense should face a tougher test against the Eagles Defense, but Nick Foles is no Drew Brees so expect another close game but nowhere close to the 88 points which were put up on this incredible week 1 match-up.
The question for all Bucs fans now, is if Fitzpatrick can somehow keep this form up, when does Jameis Winston get his starting job back?
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