Bucs’ Ryan Fitzpatrick on performing: ‘If you don’t, there are other guys that will be able to’

The Bucs 35-year-old veteran will start Sunday at Carolina in place of struggling quarterback Jameis Winston
Tampa Bay Bucs quarterbacks Jameis Winston (3),  Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) and Ryan Griffin (4) warm up during practice. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Tampa Bay Bucs quarterbacks Jameis Winston (3), Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) and Ryan Griffin (4) warm up during practice. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Published November 1 2018
Updated November 1 2018

TAMPA — When Ryan Fitzpatrick woke up Wednesday morning, he knew it was a special day.

"Halloween is a big holiday in our household and I was joking yesterday with my wife, she woke up like it was the Super Bowl," said Fitzpatrick, who has six children and one on the way in January. "She had to get everybody ready before school with the different makeup and costumes and do it all and get them out of the house before 7:15. It was a fun night for us."

One of Fitzpatrick's sons, Brady, dressed up as the Bucs' 35-year-old quarterback, complete with the DeSean Jackson-like jewelry from the Eagles post-game news conference.

"I thought he did a nice job," Fitzpatrick said. "My wife decided to take a brown marker and pencil in some chest hair on him, which I thought was a nice touch. He enjoyed it. He had some swag while he was walking around."

The swag —and Fitzpatrick —are back in the Bucs' offense as he will start Sunday at Carolina. He earned the job in part by bringing the Bucs back from an 18-point deficit to tie the score at Cincinnati on Sunday; they eventually lost 37-34.

Fitzpatrick replaced Jameis Winston, who was benched after throwing four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

"I mean you never know and what I've learned is that you've always got to stay ready," Fitzpatrick said. "You've got to take advantage of your opportunities when you get them because the biggest thing about the NFL is that it's a performance-based league and you have to go out there and perform and if you don't, there are other guys that will be able to. So that's something I've learned and been on both sides of it plenty in my career. But it's something I know I've always got to be ready regardless of the circumstance."

Because of Winston's circumstance, having been suspended the first three games of 2018, Fitzpatrick started the first four games of the season, going 2-2. He set an NFL record by throwing for 400 yards in three consecutive games and was named the league's offensive player of the week twice.

But Fitzpatrick knew he was keeping the seat warm for Winston, who returned following the bye week and started at Atlanta. Fitzpatrick said he had told his father he was either going to win the Most Valuable Player award or head back to the bench.

Fitzpatrick's numbers are remarkable. He has passed for 1,550 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. The most notable thing is that his 10.8 yards by attempt is the best in the NFL.

But Winston has thrown 10 interceptions in just more than four games, prompting the Bucs to go back to Fitzpatrick, who hasn't been perfect.

Three of his interceptions came in consecutive pass attempts in a loss to the Steelers. But even then, it wasn't all Fitzpatrick's fault.

"(Chris) Godwin, we had a ball where he could've thrown it better,'' offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. "Mike (Evans) stops on his route. We have another, we're backed up his arm gets hit. There's some of those things at the end of the half against the Bears. If — Cam (Brate) doesn't get the passing interference we don't go to the next play — some of those things lend itself to that.

"I said when we first started playing Fitz in the beginning of the year when we went 2-1 last year, 'I have no concerns with Ryan Fitzpatrick as our quarterback.' He's a good football player like all of the guys that make our team are good football players. We've got to do better as coaches and as players."

The Bucs still boast the NFL's top offense and passing game. But they are a minus-13 in turnover ratio, which is next-to-last in the league.
Fitzpatrick's job will be to stop the bleeding, to bring the swag back in an offense loaded with playmakers.

"Being in the offense and in that huddle with the skill guys we have is exciting," Fitzpatrick said. "Like we've kind of said the last few weeks, the numbers are nice, but the wins are what we care about. We've got to go out there and find a way to — first and foremost for me I've got to limit turnovers and get our team in the end zone. We've got to find a way to have more points than them at the end of the game. Those are all simple things sitting here and talking about it, but things that we've got to continue to focus on executing."

Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud.