NEW ORLEANS – Ryan Fitzpatrick backpedaled giddily for about 20 yards as he watched DeSean Jackson come down with a 36-yard touchdown pass over the middle. The journeyman quarterback then turned toward the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sideline and triumphantly thrust his arm in an upward arc.
Time will tell if the Bucs are on a similar trajectory this season, but there's no denying they're off to an encouraging start.
Fitzpatrick highlighted a 417-yard, four-touchdown performance with two scoring strikes of more than 50 yards, and the Buccaneers stunned the Saints 48-40 on Sunday.
“I'm happy to announce: FitzMagic is alive and well,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said of his 35-year-old reserve quarterback, who was starting for suspended Jameis Winston. “Quite a start, huh?”
Fitzpatrick completed 21 of 28 passes without an interception and also ran for a short touchdown, bowling over safety Marcus Williams on his way into the end zone.
“I hope somebody had him in fantasy because he went crazy today,” Bucs receiver Mike Evans said of Fitzpatrick. “And he was running the ball – phenomenal game. One of the most complete games I've seen.”
Coming off a playoff appearance and hosting a team that won only five games last season, the Saints were among the more heavily favored teams in Week 1. But some of the Saints' defensive players who were instrumental in New Orleans' success a season earlier had a miserable start to 2018.
Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, the 2017 defensive rookie of the year, had trouble covering Evans, who caught seven passes for 147 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown that put the Bucs up 41-24 late in the third quarter.
“It isn't going to get me down. Everybody gets beat,” Lattimore said. “We needed to get slapped in our face one good time to see we're not on a level we think we're on.”
A season ago, Evans was so frustrated with coverage by Lattimore that he hit him after the whistle and wound up being suspended a game for it. After this latest meeting, Evans said, “I like my odds against anybody, not just him.”
Jackson caught scoring passes of 58 and 36 yards to highlight his five-catch, 146-yard day before leaving with a concussion.
Fitzpatrick also threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin.
“The talent level in that huddle, with guys that can go up and make plays, it's a pretty special group,” Fitzpatrick said. “I'm glad we showed it today, but now it's about consistency.”