Ryan Fitzpatrick proves he can hang with the kids in Bucs’ win over Saints

Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for a career-high 417 yards with four touchdowns and ran for another score.
Ryan Fitzpatrick throws a pass during the Bucs' victory over the Saints Sunday in New Orleans. [Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP]
Ryan Fitzpatrick throws a pass during the Bucs' victory over the Saints Sunday in New Orleans. [Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP]
Published Sep. 10, 2018

NEW ORLEANS — He opened his eyes around 4:30 a.m. in his bed at the Ritz Carlton Hotel and started staring at the ceiling tiles.

"Even after all these years, especially that first one, there's some excitement going on,'' Ryan Fitzpatrick said.

After a few hours, he got to FaceTime his wife, Liza, and their six children. A seventh member of the Fitzpatrick family is due in January.

"I'm at a point now, where especially my boys, they're old enough to sit back and watch the games and they really kind of understand what's going on now,'' Fitzpatrick said. "I'm most excited to get home just to be able to hang out with the kids.''

The 35-year-old Fitzpatrick proved he can hang in there with the kids at the Mercedez-Benz Superdome.

He had no senior moments during his record-setting performance that led the Bucs to a stunning 48-40 win over the Saints Sunday, tying the club record for the most points ever scored in a game.

Fitzpatrick passed for a career-high 417 yards with four touchdowns and ran for another score while out-dueling future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees.

"I'd like to announce Fitzmagic is alive and well,'' coach Dirk Koetter said.

Indeed it is.

Who saw this coming? The gray-bearded, vagabond quarterback with his seventh team taking over for suspended face of the franchise Jameis Winston and leading the Bucs to the biggest upset in the NFL on opening day.

Bucs fans seemed to embrace Fitzpatrick before and after Sunday's game. Six fans wore faux beards and red t-shirts that when shoulder to shoulder spelled MAGIC!

But what Fitzpatrick did was no illusion. He made the deep ball reappear in the Bucs offense again.

And it wasn't just any offense. It was a Tampa Bay offense with the plays called by coordinator Todd Monken instead of Koetter.

The biggest bomb to drop for the Bucs Sunday may have been the first.

After Brees had just led the Saints as if they were on skates to a touchdown on the opening drive, Fitzpatrick lined DeSean Jackson in the slot with Mike Evans split to his right and Chris Godwin wide left. The Saints blew the coverage and Fitzpatrick threw a perfect strike to Jackson for a 58-yard touchdown.

"To go out and get that first one was big, that first drive was huge,'' Koetter said. "I thought Fitz did an awesome job of giving guys chances to make plays.''

In fact, they never stopped making them. Fitzpatrick targeted nine different receivers and seven caught passes. Jackson, who was held to 50 catches and three touchdowns last season, caught five passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns.

Evans finished with seven catches for 147 yards, including a 50-yard bomb when he beat Saints cornerback/nemesis Marshon Lattmore.

"It's fun. It's fun to be out there thinking you're going to score on every possession,'' Fitzpatrick said. "And it had nothing to do with who we were going against. It's just the confidence we had going into the game. And I just felt, even early, you saw the ball was getting spread around.

"It wasn't just one guy. It wasn't just the Mike Evans show out there or the DeSean Jackson show. It was everybody. Chris (Godwin) made some nice catches. O.J. was involved in some catches. Adam (Humphries) did some great stuff. That's fun whenever everyone is involved and we're putting up points like that.''

What Fitzpatrick couldn't do with his arm, he did with his legs.

He has more than 2,000 yards rushing in his career, and his ability to know when to flee the pocket is uncanny. He rushed 12 times for 36 yards, but two scampers really changed the game.

Fitzpatrick used a play-action fake to Peyton Barber and bootlegged to the right for a 3-yard touchdown run that gave the Bucs a 14-10 lead. Then after Brees rallied the Saints to within one score and a conversion of sending the game to overtime, on third and 11, Fitzpatrick escaped for a 12-yard run and first down to end the game.

"That was a big play in the game,'' Fitzpatrick said. "If we don't get that or throw an incompletion to stop the clock, they're going to get the ball back, and so we didn't want to give it to them. We put five of our best guy out there and the matches we liked.

"I just ended up coming out of the pocket to the left and saw an opening and knew I could get the first down. I took off. That one was pretty satisfying. That truly is like a walkoff. You know at that point the game is over.''

Afterwards, everyone in the Bucs locker room was talking about Fitzpatrick.

"I hope somebody had him in fantasy (football), because he went crazy today,'' Evans said. "A phenomenal game, one of the most compete games I've seen from a QB.''

Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who caused a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Ryan Smith, marveled at how Fitzpatrick handles his business.

"I love Fitz. I love him. How can you not love him?'' Hargreaves said. "He's so cool. When he walks into the facility like he does this. This is what he was born to do and he loves it. He's a real cool dude. Real quiet. Doesn't say much. Just practices hard.

"He's great. He got it rolling today. I'm excited for us, it's great for the team. It was a great performance.''

After the game, Bucs fans took to social media and celebrating Fitzpatrick. Everything from his own Nike ad to memes with Reese Witherspoon were bombarding Twitter.

"I thought they were called me me's,'' Fitzpatrick said. "My teammates showed me a few of them.''

After the game, Fitzpatrick was back on FaceTime talking to his brood: Ruby, Maizy, Zoey, Lucy, Tate and Brady.

"They're excited,'' he said. "There are so many highs and so many lows in this game, my wife, especially, and the kids have been through all of them with me. You learn to enjoy these. We'll take a night and enjoy it.''

Just more play time with a bunch of kids.