EDITOR’S NOTE: Steve Shute ran the original “The Crow’s Nest” website for 5 years between 1996-2001. This column is an ongoing ode to those halcyon days of his youth, and a chance to reconnect with generations of Bucs Fanatics. Feel free to post your thoughts – or criticisms – in the “Comments” section below, and as always… GO BUCS!
“FitzMagic is alive and well.”
When Buccaneers Coach Dirk Koetter stepped up to the podium for his postgame presser at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans and uttered those words, I had no choice but to agree. Not since the 48-burger that former journeyman QB Steve DeBerg similarly hung on the Atlanta Falcons back in the 1987 season opener at home had I been as shocked, delighted, and – yes – mesmerized as I was this past Sunday.
In a game that, almost universally, was being touted by the pundits and virtually every other “expert” in the nation as the equivalent of a squishy, Homecoming game chew toy exercise for the homestanding Saints, it was Ryan Fitzpatrick doing the feasting, chewing up and spitting out Marshawn Lattimore and the rest of the New Orleans secondary to the tune of 417 yards passing and FIVE total touchdowns (4 passing and 1 rushing). Given excellent protection by a revamped and much improved offensive line, the bearded one was dropping dimes like an old, rich guy with pocket holes – here to TE OJ Howard…. there to WR Mike Evans (7 receptions for 147 yards and a TD)…. and everywhere to WR DeSean Jackson (5 receptions on 5 targets, 146 yards, and 2 TDs). Fitzpatrick’s ending QB rating of 156.3 was the second highest in team history.
Who could have seen THAT coming? Particularly against a Saints team being touted as a Super Bowl contender by everyone this side of Davy Jones’ Locker, and especially, at their place?
(Also, I would be remiss not to give kudos to Bucs Offensive Coordinator – and newly anointed play-caller – Todd Monken on his superior game plan. Unlike many, many other times when Bucs teams with big leads in the past have decided to sit on the ball and invite teams to take the win from them – this one, in particular, comes immediately to mind – Monken decided to continue to pressure Drew Brees and Co. by continuing to emphasize the downfield passing game. It was a high risk, high-reward strategy – and it worked marvelously.)
Fitzpatrick now gets to try to duplicate his feat this Sunday, in the Bucs’ home opener against the defending Super Bowl Champion (ugh!) Philadelphia Eagles. The same Eagles team that just limited Matt Ryan and the high-flying Atlanta Falcons to a measly 299 yards and 12 points of offense. Something tells me it won’t be as seemingly easy for Fitz this week as it was against New Orleans. If it is, then maybe we all will need to believe in a little FitzMagic.
Steve’s Spyglass – The Top 5 NFL Storylines Going into Week 2
- Aaron Freaking Rodgers – is there anything this guy can’t do? He only suffered what seemed to be a devastating knee injury early in the second quarter of the Packers’ opener against the hated Chicago Bears, came back into the game after only two series of an eyebleed-inducing display by “backup” QB DeShone Kizer, and then only proceeded to pass for 273 yards and three touchdowns AFTER HE RETURNED. His first touchdown, a perfectly placed deep ball to Geronimo Allison, was thrown by Rodgers while he was standing on one leg. Rodgers is getting tests done this week and he will no doubt be hobbled for several weeks, but if this game was any indication, any reports of the $160 million QB’s demise are, indeed, greatly exaggerated. Rodgers takes on arch-rival Minnesota on the road in Week 2.
- Khalil Mack is simply a beast. In his first game as a Chicago Bear – and without the benefit of a training camp or any time to learn a new defensive system, having just been traded from Oakland last week – all he does is post this phat stat line on the road at Lambeau Field:
3.5 tackles, 3 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovered fumble, 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 TD
You think that Oakland Coach Jon Gruden is beginning to regret that trade?
Next week, the Bears host the Seahawks in their home opener. I hope Pete Carroll has a strategy for keeping Russell Wilson upright, or it could be a VERY long day for Seattle…
- Heartwarming story of the week: Steelers RB James Conner, hometown hero who never left western Pennsylvania and who was forced to take a detour from football while at the University of Pittsburgh to fight Hodgkins lymphoma. Cancer survivor Conner, who was selected by his hometown team in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, was pressed into action due to Le’Veon Bell’s holdout and helped lead the Steelers to an Opening Day tie(!) with the archrival – and greatly improved – Cleveland Browns (more on them later). Conner’s rushing stat line: 31 att, 135 yards (4.4 ypc), 2 TDs.Well done, kid – well done, indeed.
- Jacksonville ended up winning their game against the new-look Giants at the Met this weekend, but RB Saquon Barkley is the real deal, folks. Just take a look at the tightrope job he managed along the sideline on this amazing, inside-out touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, leaving poor Jaguar DB Tashaun Gipson helplessly waving at air in the process:
I predict that there will be plenty of weeks when Barkley is going to simply take over games, especially games not played against the best defense in all of football. Next week, the G-men take on the Cowboys in Dallas. Is anyone stupid enough NOT to start him on their Fantasy team?
- Speaking of “real deals,” how about the combination of Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and WR/KR Tyreek Hill? Hill started the party at LA’s StubHub Center by taking his first touch of the season 91 yards for a punt return touchdown. Then, the next time they had the ball, he took a pass from Mahomes 58 yards to paydirt. Hill would score two times in total on 7 receptions for 169 yards, in addition to that aforementioned punt return TD. Mahomes? He only passed for 4 touchdowns and 256 yards, with no interceptions. Efficiency, thy name is Patrick.Next week, the Chiefs go to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers, who now look a whole lot more vulnerable, particularly on offense. Another scoreboard-breaking point total may be in the offing.
Welcome to Overreaction Tuesday™!
Yes, it is the Tuesday after Week 1 of the NFL season, and the hype machine – as has been the case every year after Week 1 for as long as I can remember – is in full swing.
- !!FitzMagic will relegate Jameis Winston permanently to the sidelines!!
- !!James Conner will be even BETTER than Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh!!
- !!The sky is falling in New Orleans and Atlanta!!
- !!Adrian Peterson is BACK, baby!!
- !!The Baltimore Ravens will WIN the Super Bowl!!
Through all of these outlandish statements, keep one thing in mind, which is true for every week in the NFL season but particularly after Week 1:
No team is as good as they look on a given week, and no team is as bad as they look, either (unless they reside in Cleveland and are called the Browns).
I have no doubt that even with the surprises that we have witnessed, the old adage will remain the same. Baltimore will NOT finish the season 16-0. Winston will be helming the Bucs in Week 4 (unless Fitzpatrick goes on a run that he has never before experienced). The Saints and Falcons will be in the mix all season for the division and the playoffs. Peterson will peter out (pun intended) sometime toward the middle of the season.
And the Browns will still suck (although, a lot less than last year).
The Crow’s Nest Handi(re)capping Update!
Well, Week 1 of the NFL Season is in the books, and yours truly didn’t do badly at all, going 10-5-1 straight-up, 10-5-1 against-the-spread, and 11-4-1 against the over/under. I’m telling ya, I probably outperformed all the “professional” schleps on those 800 lines, and my picks were FREE! (Of course, my CT Best Bet of the Week was a colossal flop, but in the immortal words of 80’s philosophers Milli Vanilli, I will “blame it on the rain, baby.”)
See you next week, and as always…
- GO BUCS!