Can lightning strike twice for QB Fitzpatrick?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers shocked the NFL with the biggest opening-day upset, going into New Orleans and beating the Saints 48-40 behind veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
In tying a franchise record for the most points in a game, Fitzpatrick passed for a career high 417 yards with four touchdowns and running for another score. He was named the NFC offensive player of the week.
The Bucs were just hoping Fitzpatrick could keep the Bucs from sinking while they try to navigate the start of the season as Jameis Winston serves a three-game suspension.
So it will be the battle of the NFL's elite backup quarterbacks Sunday when Fitzpatrick squares off against Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Foles and Fitzpatrick are amazing stories, not just guys content to keep the seat warm for Carson Wentz and Winston.
"I think what happens with backup quarterbacks is they're seeing the game from a distance, they're seeing it from afar as a backup," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. "The starter is getting all the reps, they're playing on Sundays and the backup is processing all this information and just basically saying, 'Hey, if given the opportunity, I'm going to do it the same or do this.' And I think that's the case with both Nick and Ryan. They've studied the game for so long. They're veteran players. They've started and played in this league, too, and you can't discount that. I think that and having the ability to process all that information, given the opportunity on the field, you can see what Ryan Fitzpatrick can do. You know, what Nick Foles can do. And I think it's just a credit to them for their preparation throughout the years and how they get themselves ready for game day."
Fitzpatrick says he's never played with a better assemblage of weapons that includes Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries and tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.
He completed all 12 targets to Evans and Jackson against the Saints. Jackson finished with five catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Evans had seven catches for 147 yards and a TD. The Bucs scored on their first five possessions in rolling up 529 total yards.
Pederson said both the Eagles and Bucs have rallied around their backup quarterbacks.
"I can give you what our team did last year when we lost our starter in Carson (Wentz), one, the guys rallied around Nick and supported Nick and never once doubted or wavered what Nick was able to do and I think that's the same thing in Tampa Bay," Pederson said.
"When the ruling came down that Jameis was going to miss a couple weeks, I'm assuming that Coach (Dirk) Koetter just said, 'Hey Ryan, you're going to be with the ones and get all the starter reps in practice.' So they can be prepared for the regular season. Everything can be exposed to that offense, the same way it was here in Philadelphia here around Nick."
Defensively, the Bucs played poorly against the Saints. They sacked Brees only once and allowed 439 yards passing and three touchdowns.
If not for forcing two fumbles, including one returned for a touchdown, it would've been a disastrous start for the Bucs defense.
It won't get easier this week. The Bucs were forced to put cornerback Vernon Hargreaves on injured reserve with a shoulder injury he suffered against the Saints. That will force rookie corners Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart to have bigger roles this week. The Bucs also could be without defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who has an injured right knee.
SERIES HISTORY: 15th regular season meeting. Eagles lead series 8-6. The Bucs last met the Eagles in Philadelphia in 2015 when QB Jameis Winston threw five touchdown passes in a 45-17 win at Lincoln Financial Field. The Bucs and Eagles share a rich playoff rivalry. Tampa Bay beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game in Jan. 2003 on their way to a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII over the Raiders.