Bucs’ Fitzpatrick in familiar spot with chance to face Bills
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Having a rocket scientist for a father and a Harvard education doesn’t prevent Ryan Fitzpatrick from being superstitious.
The Buccaneers’ journeyman backup is beginning to think this so-called curse that’s affected most every starter on every team Fitzpatrick has played for just might be real.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities, whether through injuries or weird circumstances,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s not really true, but it sure does seem to happen an awful lot.”
Beginning with his rookie season with St. Louis in 2005, the seventh-round pick has started in place of everyone from Marc Bulger (Rams) to Carson Palmer (Cincinnati), and Jake Locker (Tennessee) to Case Keenum (Houston). And then there was 2015, when Fitzpatrick landed the Jets’ starting job after Geno Smith had his jaw broken by teammate IK Enemkpali.
Eerily, it happened yet again last weekend, when Fitzpatrick was forced into action after starter Jameis Winston sprained his throwing shoulder on the opening drive of a 38-33 loss at Arizona.
With Winston in jeopardy of missing a game for the first time in his career, Fitzpatrick is in a position to start against one of his former — and perhaps, favorite — teams Sunday when Tampa Bay (2-3) travels to play the Buffalo Bills (3-2).
“It feels like home every time I go back,” he said of Buffalo, where he spent four of his 13 NFL seasons before being cut in 2013.
Fitzpatrick would not have gotten this opportunity after he contemplated retiring following a dreadful season with the Jets. He finished 3-8 and threw 12 touchdowns versus 17 interceptions a year after nearly leading New York to the playoffs.
“I really had to sit down and reflect and figure out if I wanted to still do this or not,” Fitzpatrick said before signing with Tampa Bay in May.
He proved it was the right decision with his performance against Arizona, in which he and the defense rallied the Bucs from a 31-0 third-quarter deficit.
“Being able to get out on the field and playing, I mean, I still love this game. I still love being out there,” Fitzpatrick said after going 22 of 32 for 290 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
It was the typical gunslinger-type outing his former Bills teammates are familiar with happening both for and against them.
“Do I have a favorite Ryan Fitzpatrick memory? They’re all so good,” veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams said.
The one he didn’t need to be reminded of was Fitzpatrick throwing for 374 yards in the Jets’ 37-31 win that spoiled the Bills home opener last year.
“Next question,” Williams said. “That’s a bad one.”
Some things to watch out for as Tampa Bay makes just its second trip to Buffalo in team history:
THE MATCHUP: The Bills are coming off their bye week with a chance of getting off to a 4-2 or better start for the fourth time during a 17-season playoff drought — the longest active streak in North America’s four major pro sports.
The Bucs look to rebound from two losses, including a 19-14 defeat to New England in which Nick Folk, since released, missed three field-goal attempts.
SHADY SHUTOUT: Bills running back LeSean McCoy says it’s time he started producing after being held without a touchdown through the first five games of a season for the first time in his nine-year career.
“It’s been long enough. What is this, Week 8, 7?” McCoy said. “Yeah. I’ve got to get it back. We’ve got to get this thing rolling.”
McCoy has combined for 169 yards rushing since gaining 110 in a season-opening win over the Jets.
SANS SACKS: With a league-worst six sacks, the Bucs haven’t had one from a defensive end since Noah Spence had the team’s only quarterback trap in a season-opening win over Chicago. That’s a big reason the team ranks 31st in pass defense, allowing 302 yards per game.
“Those numbers are not nearly what they need to be,” coordinator Mike Smith said. “We’ve got to get it turned around because if we don’t, it’s going to be more of the same.”
BANGED-UP BILLS: Starting tight end Charles Clay (left knee) won’t play, and starting receiver Jordan Matthews’ status is uncertain while returning to practice this week since breaking his right thumb. The two account for 30 of 85 receptions and 420 of the team’s 910 yards receiving.
BEEN THERE: The Bucs’ aren’t concerned with their slow start a year after rallying from a 3-5 record to finish 9-7 for their first winning season since 2010.
“We aren’t going to act like we haven’t been here before,” receiver Mike Evans said. “Hopefully, it won’t have to get to that, but I think we need to start winning ASAP.”
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.
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