Eagles-Bucs: Slowing Down the Hot Hand
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Matt Ryan is the former MVP quarterback but Ryan Fitzpatrick is the hot one.
There are a lot of cliches around the NFL and one of the more time-tested is the theory that it's not who you play, it's when you play them.
The Eagles smothered Ryan during their season opener just over a week ago, holding a four-time Pro Bowl signal caller with a career completion percentage right at 65 percent to a 48.8 percent nightmare. It was just the sixth time in the past six seasons that the Exton native who is a former No. 3 overall pick failed to throw a touchdown pass in a game.
Other than flipping the first name and the surname Fitzpatrick doesn't have a ton in common with QBs like Ryan. Fitz is as a career journeyman who has started games for six different organizations, always the bridge to the next option and never the foundation.
In Week 1, though, Fitzpatrick was Fitz-magic, the star outplaying future Hall of Famer Drew Brees in a 48-40 Tampa Bay shootout win. The stage was much smaller but it was almost a carbon copy of Super Bowl LII when the Eagles' Nick Foles somehow caught fire and got the best of Tom Brady.
Fitzpatrick, stepping in for the suspended Jameis Winston, completed 21-of-28 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns for a 156.3 passer rating against the Saints, oh so close to the perfection of 158.3.
Maybe the most impressive part of Fitzpatrick's performance was getting the ball to his outside receivers, Mike Evans and former Eagle DeSean Jackson, who combined for 12 catches on 12 targets for 293 yards and three touchdowns.
"It was eye-opening to watch it, for sure," Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said earlier this week when asked about the Bucs' offensive performance on the road against the Saints. "They made a lot of big plays. DeSean Jackson down the field. [Mike] Evans. The tight end. A lot of big plays. Fitzpatrick's been around for a long time. He got hot."
Can he stay that hot for a second straight week?
Forget about 156.3 against an Eagles front that sacked Ryan four times and had the Falcons' pilot seeing ghosts and speeding himself up even when he didn't have to but Tampa Bay also doesn't exactly need to put up 48 against a Philadelphia offense which only got 43 yards from its receivers in Week 1.
A regress to the mean for both sides is the most logical outcome with the Eagles ticking a bit up on the offensive side, perhaps due to the banged-up nature of the Tampa Bay secondary, and the Bucs offense coming down to Earth.
And one way to ensure both parts of that equation coming to fruition is turnovers, opportunities Malcolm Jenkins believes will be in the offing on a hot and steamy afternoon in Tamps.
"They have a quarterback that isn't afraid to take chances," Jenkins explained. "... the ball is definitely going to be in the air and that means we have a chance to make some plays."
973espn.com Prediction: Eagles 27, Buccaneers 21
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen