TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — As a veteran quarterback accustomed to ever-changing roles, there’s little Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t experienced during a 14-year NFL career.
He’s been a starter and a backup — several times.
Now, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are counting on him to help them weather Jameis Winston‘s three-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
And then head back to the bench.
“I thought I had seen and been through it all,” said Fitzpatrick, who’s entering his second season with his seventh pro team. “But another year, another different situation.”
Not that the 35-year-old is complaining.
Fitzpatrick signed with Tampa Bay before last season, knowing coach Dirk Koetter sought him purely as a backup.
“I’ve learned that you view it as a one-game-at-a-time opportunity. That’s just the way it is in this league,” Fitzpatrick said.
“In 2015, when I played with the (New York) Jets, I was a backup and ended up (playing) the whole year with the situation there,” he added. “In 2016, I was a starter and I ended up getting benched three times. Every year is different. You have to take it game by game and just go from there.”
Fitzpatrick, who turns 36 in November, entered the NFL as a seventh-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2005.
In addition to the Bucs and Jets, he’s also played for the Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans, completing nearly 60 percent of his passes for 26,991 yards, 173 touchdowns and 136 interceptions.
He’s one of just four players in NFL history — along with Vinny Testaverde, Gus Frerotte and Chris Chandler — to throw TD passes with seven different teams.
Winston, suspended following the league’s investigation of an allegation that he groped a female Uber driver during a ride in March 2016, will miss games against New Orleans, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to begin the season.
Fitzpatrick rejected the notion that his role is to “save the season.”
“The season hasn’t even started yet. … It’s a cliche, but it’s one game at a time. You have to look at it that way,” Fitzpatrick said. “Not even based off last year, talent-wise, looking at the team we have out here, I’m in the huddle on offense, and it’s a pretty exciting huddle to be in as a quarterback looking at some of those guys.”
With Winston missing three games and portions of two others because of injury, Fitzpatrick went 2-1 as a starter a year ago. Three seasons ago, he threw for a career-best 3,905 yards and 31 TDs with the Jets.
Koetter noted that Fitzpatrick has 119 career starts and said he has total confidence in the veteran’s ability to handle the offense.
“We’re fortunate enough to have him,” Koetter said. “We saw what he could do when he was our starter last year for three games. There’s no reason for us to be afraid of Ryan playing quarterback for us. He’s going to play fine.”
And Winston, who’s allowed to practice during training camp and play preseason games, intends to do whatever he can help Fitzpatrick and No. 3 quarterback Ryan Griffin, a fifth-year pro who’s never taken a snap in a regular-season game.
“As a teammate first, I understand it’s about this team and I am going to be there for Fitz as much as I can,” Winston, entering his fourth season, said.
“But it’s also about getting Ryan (Griffin) ready as well,” the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner added. “My influence on this team is going to be positive, and I’m going to be their best support system they have.”