Ryan Fitzpatrick got his campaign off to an electrifying start, delivering four-touchdowns as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened their season with a 48-40 upset of the New Orleans Saints.
The journeyman quarterback Fitzpatrick punctuated his night with two scoring strikes of 50 yards or more, including one to Mike Evans that gave them a 17-point lead in the third quarter.
“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.”
That is something the 35-year-old Fitzpatrick has struggled with in the past. He was only starting because the Bucs No. 1 quarterback Jameis Winston is serving a suspension.
But Fitzpatrick passed the test completing 21 of 28 passes and running for a touchdown, overpowering free safety Marcus Williams on his way into the end zone.
“I’m happy to announce: FitzMagic is alive and well,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said. “Quite a start, huh?”
Said receiver Evans, “I hope somebody had him in fantasy because he went crazy today. And he was running the ball, phenomenal game. One of the most complete games I’ve seen.”
Evans grabbed seven passes for 147 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown that put the Bucs up 41-24 late in the third quarter.
The Saints are considered one of the NFL’s marquee teams but their defence struggled Sunday against Tampa Bay, who won just five games last season.
“We needed to get slapped in our face one good time to see we’re not on a level we think we’re on,” said Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
Elsewhere, Clayton Fejedelem scored on an 83-yard fumble recovery with 24 seconds remaining to lift the Cincinnati Bengals to a 34-23 win and spoil the return of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
Andy Dalton outduelled Luck by rallying the Bengals with three scores in the final 19 minutes as Cincinnati snapped an eight-game losing skid in Indianapolis.
Fejedelem scooped up the loose ball and tore down the sideline.
“He just turned, presented his chest and I saw the ball,” Fejedelem said.
The victory gave the Bengals their fourth win in the past five openers and ended Luck’s last-gasp chance of a comeback in his first start in more than 20 months.
Luck completed 39 of 53 passes for 319 yards and two touchdown passes. His lone interception came on his first throw of the season which turned out to be an underthrown attempt to Jack Doyle inside the Bengals five-yard line.
“I was certainly a bit emotional before the game and I wish we would have won,” Luck said.
“I think I was a little careless with the ball when we had a chance to put some points on the board.”
Rare opening day draw
We know the Cleveland Browns won’t go 0-16 this season, but they were unable to take advantage of six Pittsburgh Steelers turnovers as the two teams played to a 21-21 tie in a steady downpour in Ohio.
Hue Jackson’s record as head coach of the Browns is now 1-31-1. The Browns still haven’t won a regular-season game since December 24, 2016, or an opener since 2004.
“Obviously disappointed at the outcome, a tie game,” Jackson said.
“This is not preseason football, this is the National Football League, it’s the regular season, and we have to get better.”
The tie was the first in an NFL opener since 1971.
Also, Tom Brady threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns, Rob Gronkowski caught seven passes for 123 yards and the Patriots fended off a late rally from the Houston Texans to kick off their season with a 27-20 victory.
Cam Newton had a touchdown and 58 yards running as the Carolina Panthers sacked Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott six times en route to a 16-8 victory.
Luke Kuechly had 13 tackles to lead the Panthers. Mario Addison added a game-clinching sack of the Prescott with 83 seconds left.
© Agence France-Presse (Additional Edits By Oisin McQueirns)