Bucs fans everywhere held their breath for a moment when starting quarterback Jameis Winston winced in pain before making his way to the sideline following a shoulder injury against the Cardinals.
It’s fair to say that a team’s confidence may take a hit when a starter at any position goes down but even more so when it’s the starting quarterback. Some who watched the game might argue that confidence was left on the tarmac in Tampa. But enter Ryan Fitzpatrick, the 13 year veteran who has been in just about every situation you can put an NFL quarterback in. Despite a few questionable decisions, Fitzpatrick gave the Buccaneers reason to believe his play can win games if Winston misses more time.
“I’ve been in a lot of different situations,” Fitzpatrick said. “Having to bounce in there and do that, there are some things I wish I had back, but that’s the role that I’m in right now and a role that I’ve been in before. I just try to go out there and do the best I can no matter what the situation is.”
Just two years ago Fitzpatrick lead the New York Jets to a 10-6 season that saw him throw for 35 touchdowns. If that is even close to the type of production that takes the field in Winston’s absence, the Buccaneers have plenty of reason to be confident moving forward. Being in the league so long there is no reason why Fitzpatrick shouldn’t feel the same.
The only worry in his mind on Sunday? Not letting Winston down.
“When I signed on here— this is Jameis’ team one hundred percent, always,” Fitzpatrick said. “For me, the biggest thing when I’m out there is almost not letting him down. I know how much this means to him. I know how much him being out there means to him. When he came out last week that was one of the biggest things in my head, ‘Alright, what can I do to not let him down?’ I’ve probably felt that way with other guys before but with him especially. He’s a special guy. That was just kind of the overwhelming feeling I had when I was in there.”
With Winston limited in practice, the weapons Fitzpatrick could be throwing to against his old team on Sunday agree that Fitzpatrick gives them a chance to win.
The Buccaneers top receiver, Mike Evans, connected with Fitzpatrick on a 37 yard score and is confident that connection could continue if the Harvard product gets the start against the Bills.
“He’s a veteran,” Evans said. “He’s been in the league a long time. He is a very, very smart player. Fitz is a smart quarterback and he has really good ball placement. He put it in places where only we can catch it. He gave us a chance to win.”
Adam Humphries spoke to the unrattled demeanor Fitzpatrick displayed on Sunday.
“Ryan came in the huddle once Jameis went down,” Humphries said. “He’s reserved, calm, and full of confidence. That’s cool for us to see a guy coming in who we haven’t seen in the huddle before in a game. To see him cool, calm, and reserved was reassuring to us.”
With Winston getting all the reps in practice and most of the snaps with the first team in preseason, Fitzpatrick has seen very little of the starting receivers on this Buccaneers offense. Despite not getting many reps with them previously, Fitzpatrick reciprocates this trust in the Buccaneers starting pass catchers.
“Offensively the talent level is extremely high on this team,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was fun being out there with them. It’s not just the two big names in Mike and DeSean. You look at a guy like Adam Humphries and how talented he is in the slot and the things that he really brings. He brings a unique element to our offense. There are a lot of different guys that we can spread the ball around to and that’s a nice thing to have as a quarterback.”
It remains to be seen if Fitzpatrick adds another start to an already lengthy list that spans over a decade. Even if it doesn’t happen, the Buccaneers trust that No. 14 will be ready the next time he is called upon.