TAMPA — Ryan Fitzpatrick scrambled to his right. About 25 yards down the field, a receiver crossed over the middle. Not a single Jets jersey was in sight.
His previous 34 passes were a mix of good and bad. But the 35th? It was one of the more meaningful passes you’ve never seen.
Not because of the throw. But because of the receiver.
It wasn’t DeSean Jackson. And it wasn’t Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries or Cameron Brate. It wasn’t even a professional football player.
On the same side of the field an hour and a half earlier, Fitzpatrick celebrated what turned out to be a game-winning touchdown pass to running back Charles Sims.
In the context of an NFL season, the Bucs’ 15-10 win over the Jets on Sunday doesn’t mean all that much. Tampa Bay improved to 3-6. New York fell to 4-6. Neither team is going to the playoffs.
While the season might be lost, the games still matter.
For Fitzpatrick, the games are an opportunity for him to share the end of his NFL career with his two sons, 10-year-old Brady and 8-year-old Tate.
We’ll forget everything that happened on Nov. 12, 2017. But Brady and Tate (Fitzpatrick also has three daughters) will remember holding their father’s grass-stained scarlet jersey in the locker room after the game. They’ll remember him taking them out onto the field. They’ll remember chasing him and catching his passes.
For Sims, the games are an opportunity to become known for something other than his botched lateral against the Broncos last season. Sunday was a good start.
Without him, the Bucs don’t beat the Jets.
Sims not only extended Tampa Bay’s fourth-quarter scoring drive but also finished it. On a third and 15, he took a toss 21 yards. Later, he caught a Fitzpatrick pass in the right flat and took it 6 yards into the end zone. It was the Bucs’ first meaningful touchdown in three weeks.
For DeSean Jackson, the games are an opportunity to show that he can do more than run far and run fast. The Bucs’ visions of 40-yard touchdowns haven’t materialized, and probably won’t as long as Fitzpatrick is the quarterback.
Jackson ran more short and intermediate routes Sunday and had one of his most productive games as a Buccaneer. While he didn’t find the end zone, he was targeted 10 times and caught six passes, both of which were season highs.
For coach Dirk Koetter, the games are an opportunity to prove that he can adjust and win games without his starting quarterback. The season hasn’t unfolded the way he expected, but NFL seasons never do. Things go wrong. Is he a coach? Or is he just a play-caller?
The season might be lost, but the games still matter.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.