The Bucs Jameis Winston left aren’t the Bucs he returns to

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) scrambles from Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Vince Williams (98) during the second half Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 in Tampa. JIM DAMASKE  |   Times
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) scrambles from Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Vince Williams (98) during the second half Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 in Tampa. JIM DAMASKE | Times
Published September 24
Updated September 25

TAMPA — Welcome back, Jameis Winston.

At 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, your three-game suspension ended.

It looked as if the clock may have struck midnight much earlier than that for Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Turns out Fitzmagic may have an expiration date.

While you were away, fans went a little nuts over the 35-year-old quarterback. They're wearing beards to the games. Even the men.  That's what happens when you get off to a 2-0 start, throw for 400 yards three straight games and are named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Twice.

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You may feel a little like Sheriff Andy to Fitz's Buzz Lightyear.

Don't.

On Monday Night Football, Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions on three consecutive passing attempts in the first half, including one that was returned for a touchdown in a 30-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Fitz made a heck of a comeback, throwing second-half TD passes to Chris Godwin and Mike Evans to cut the lead to a field goal.

But Big Ben knew what time it was. Ben Roethlisberger pulled the Steelers out of an 0-1-1 funk by throwing for 353 yards and three touchdowns.

Until Monday, it looked like you didn't have to worry about playing in six days in Chicago. Short week. Road game. Why rush it?

But after Monday night's 'Magic first-half meltdown, don't be so sure.

The Steelers got caught roughing Fitzpatrick three times and sacked him three times. At least you have fresh legs.

Anyway, here's a couple things you should know before you walk back into the AventHealth Training Center.

  • DeSean Jackson already has said the team should stick with Fitz. You can’t blame the guy, really. Jaccpot entered Monday night’s game leading the NFL in receiving yardage. With his sixth catch of the season, he already had three touchdowns, as many as he had all of 2017.

You won't believe the connection Jackson has with Fitzpatrick. They're finishing each other's sentences. They're wearing each other's clothes. All that's missing is nail polish and they can have a slumber party.

I'm sure you caught the Fitz's postgame act after the Eagles game. It was Conor McGregor and ice, ice, baby.

  • It was reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter that in your last meeting with general manager Jason Licht you thanked him for “keeping it real” when he told you there was no guarantee you would get your job back when the suspension was up. Then you stuck your head back and said, “You know Fitz is going to light it up, don’t you?”

If you don't mind, can you pick some lottery numbers for me?

Also, what are you thinking?

  • Your off-campus QB coach, George Whitfield, tweeted you led a team of former and recently cut NFL players through the Bucs exact regime including early morning film sessions, walk-throughs and 20 plus practices at the exact time the Bucs would go.

Question: Can any of them play defense? The Bucs have given up 48 and 21 and 30 in three games.

  • Todd Monken is killing it as offensive coordinator. He calls a game the way kids play Madden NFL. Everything is a go route. Not sure about the new terminology but I think what Fitz says in the huddle is “Okay, everyone get open. On one!”

Monk hung a club record 48 points at New Orleans in his first NFL game as a play-caller. Sean Payton tried to lock him in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. You know he's good if Dirk Koetter gave up play-calling, the thing he loves most about coaching football. Just a warning: Dirk now has more time to scream at you after turnovers.

You went 3 of 20 in passes over 30 yards last season. Fitz was making those throws look like a handoff. He hit another 50-yarder to Mike Evans Monday.

  • One guy who will be glad to see you is Cameron Brate. He had no catches in the first two games and only two targets. And he’s the only other guy who knows the words to the Harvard fight song. Brate caught his first pass Monday for a touchdown.

* The Bucs have no running game to speak of. They entered Monday last in the NFL with 2.7 yards per carry. The good news is that Ronald Jones is rested. The second-round pick from Southern Cal has played as much as you in three games.

  • Say this for Fitz, he kept things loose while you were gone. His goal was to go 3-0. He fell just shy of that. If somebody had told you the Bucs would be 2-1 when you came back, you would’ve signed up for that.

The plan may still be to start Fitzpatrick against the Bears. They may keep everyone in suspense until Sunday.

Know this. Your teammates bailed you out, Jameis. The season is very much alive. You left them in a bad position. Remember, you will always miss football more than it misses you.

One more thing. Did you bring donuts and coffee?

Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud

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