TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick — whose “FitzMagic” was the talk of the NFL through Weeks 1 and 2 — recovered from three first-half interceptions to mount a comeback that came up just short and saw him finish with 411 passing yards in Monday night’s 30-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Heading into the game, Fitzpatrick had been picked off just once this season, but also faced little pressure. Entering Week 3, Fitzpatrick was under duress or sacked on 17.4 percent of dropbacks, lowest in the NFL. On Monday night, he was under duress or sacked on 40.3 percent of dropbacks, and was sacked three times.
“I didn’t think we protected him as well,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. “I thought he played much better in the second half than he did in the first half and we were under pressure and probably forced a couple of throws he didn’t need to.”
Monday night also marked the first time in his career that he’d thrown three interceptions in the first half of a game. It was the first time one of his interceptions had been returned for a touchdown since Week 3 of 2016.
“[It’s] a tough spot to turn it over four times, and three really big interceptions on me,” Fitzpatrick said. “Can’t have them. Hard to win that way. We obviously dug ourselves a pretty big hole there.”
All of his interceptions — along with a lost fumble by Chris Godwin — happened in the second quarter.
On the first pick, a pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage, with Mike Hilton picking it off. On Fitzpatrick’s second pick, the ball sailed over Mike Evans‘ head as he cut his route short and into the hands of Terrell Edmunds. Then, backed up in his own end zone, Fitzpatrick threw a pick-six to Bud Dupree when attempting a short pass to Jacquizz Rodgers.
Evans said this shouldn’t fall solely on Fitzpatrick.
“Absolutely not,” Evans said. “I’m here telling you … I was in the game. It was a tip and one of them. … I deviated on my route and tricked Fitz and he threw it across the middle. It was my fault. … I misread it. I thought he was trying to scramble up. … I was supposed to go a little higher.”
The Bucs were caught off-guard by some unscouted looks early on, particularly with the Steelers’ blitzes. The Steelers also prevented deep plays downfield using a Cover-2 shell and receivers didn’t have the one-on-one matches they exploited against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1.
Fitzpatrick did show flashes of what made him arguably one of the most dangerous passers in the league. In the fourth quarter, he threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Godwin and a 24-yard grab to a diving Evans. He wound up throwing for 411 yards, becoming the first NFL player to record three consecutive 400-yard passing games.
It wasn’t enough to atone for earlier mistakes, though, and he joined Kurt Warner and Dan Marino as the only players in MNF history to throw for 400 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in a game.
It’s definitely not on Ryan completely tonight,” tight end Cameron Brate said. “He had a couple turnovers there, but it seemed like we had issues in protection. We didn’t give him the cleanest pocket. He’s played really well I think in our first three games, giving our team the best chance to win, and that’s all you can ask for your quarterback.”
Evans added: “Fitz played awesome. Fitz got us back in the game. He was throwing the ball and letting us make plays in the second half. We just came up short.”
Now the Bucs (2-1) have a decision to make. Starter Jameis Winston returns Tuesday following a three-game suspension. Do they want to keep things going with Fitzpatrick, giving him and the offense an opportunity to redeem themselves, believing Monday night was an anomaly? Or do they want to turn the reins over to Winston, who hasn’t practiced with the team in 28 days, on a shortened week?
“Let’s see what happens,” Koetter said. “I’d love to get a chance to talk to Jameis face-to-face before I tell the rest of the world.”
The feeling around the Bucs’ facility this past week was that Fitzpatrick would likely get the nod for Week 4, barring an unforeseen disaster. Monday night’s game might just constitute that, depending on whether the Bucs’ brass sees this as glass half empty or half full and how much they believe actually falls on No. 14.
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.