The Chicago Bears have won two straight games after that Week 1 collapse at Lambeau Field. Can they make it three in a row vs. the improved Buccaneers?
It is far from shocking but still quite amazing how fickle NFL observers can be.
On Monday night at home against the desperate Pittsburgh Steelers, journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was cooled off a bit. Off to a blistering start in surprise wins over the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles, he threw three interceptions in the second quarter of an eventual 30-27 loss. He would finish the evening would 411 yards through the air and three scores as well. And he nearly rallied the club from a 20-point, third-quarter deficit.
But for quite a few, it’s spelled the end of “FitzMagic.” That’s all well and good. Because the reality is that the 14-year pro was only a fill-in for the first three games while regular starter Jameis Winston was serving a league suspension. Still, the seasoned pro will get the nod on Sunday as the Bucs travel north to face the rejuvenated Chicago Bears. Keep in mind that Dirk Koetter’s club is coming off a short week. Tampa has its off-week and logic says that Winston returns to the starting lineup.
Regardless of who is playing behind center on Sunday, are the Buccaneers ready to deal with a Chicago defense that has really come into its own? A week ago in the desert, the Bears fell behind the Arizona Cardinals, 14-0. Then outside linebacker Khalil Mack and his buddies took matters into their own hands. Matt Nagy’s club held the Cards scoreless the rest of the afternoon. Arizona totaled a mere 221 yards of offense by game’s end. The Bears wound up forcing four turnovers and totaling an equal amount of sacks – two by Mack. It would add up to a 16-14 win and after three weeks, Nagy’s club was the only team in the NFC North with a winning record.
But that doesn’t mean that Fitzpatrick and the Tampa Bay passing attack will just fade on Sunday. The 35-year-old signal-caller has thrown for 1,230 yards and 11 scores (4 interceptions) during the Buccaneers’ 2-1 start. He’s hitting on 70.3 percent of his passes and has been sacked only five times in three games. But he and his team are facing a team that had racked up a NFL-best 14 sacks after three weeks of action. But it is also worth noting that while the Chicago defense has surrendered only seven offensive touchdowns in 12 quarters of play this season, all seven have come through the air.
Meanwhile, Mack has been a truck in three games with his new team. There have been 13 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a 27-yard interception return for a score. It could be a long day for Koetter’s club if right tackle Demar Dotson and company aren’t able to keep the one-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year out of the Tampa Bay backfield.
But here’s something to ponder should the Buccaneers’ attack stall in the early stages of Sunday’s game. Would Koetter turn to Winston if Fitzpatrick has another turnover-prone quarter as was the case in his last outing? Stay tuned.