Ryan Fitzpatrick stepping in, leading Buccaneers to victory

Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Justin Evans (21) carries the ball after making an interception in the end zone during the first half against the Miami Dolphins.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Ryan Fitzpatrick wants no part of a quarterback controversy, and one surely doesn’t exist in Tampa Bay.

At least, not yet.

Fitzpatrick threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns in leading the Buccaneers past the Miami Dolphins 30-20 on Sunday.

Fitzpatrick now has as many wins as the Bucs’ starter this season — two, in two tries — as Tampa Bay got in Jameis Winston’s starts over the season’s first eight outings.

“I like being the Grandpa,” said Fitzpatrick, who turns 35 this week.

Grandpa can still play.

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“Real confident, very smart, processes things well and can make plays outside the pocket,” Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans said. “He’s similar to Jameis. We have two really good quarterbacks.”

Winston has been dealing with an injury to his throwing shoulder, and it’s unclear how long he’ll be sidelined. He’s got some off-the-field issues dogging him again as well, after it was learned last week that the NFL is investigating an allegation that he groped a female Uber driver in 2016 — a claim that Winston has denied.

None of that mattered on the field Sunday, anyway, with Fitzpatrick completing 22 of 37 passes and leading what essentially was the winning drive in the final 3 minutes after Miami tied the game.

Fitzpatrick got the Bucs into range for an easy field goal by Patrick Murray, and Tampa Bay got a touchdown as time expired when the Dolphins fumbled away a last-ditch, lateral-filled kickoff return.

“I thought we really stepped up at the end there,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was tough getting things going in the second half. We had a couple of possessions where I think we had seven plays in the third quarter. Games are going to have those ebbs and flows.”

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter couldn’t heap enough praise onto Fitzpatrick after the win.

“Heck, he’s 2-0 as a starter … a calm, professional leader,” Koetter said. “When you go get a veteran backup like that, that’s what you’re looking for.”

The Buccaneers (4-6) still have playoff hopes — slim, but existent — because of their backup.

The Dolphins (4-6) may have to ask their backup to find a way to keep them hanging on as well.

Matt Moore took over at halftime when Jay Cutler was diagnosed with a concussion, and completed 17 of 28 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown that tied the game at 20-20 — after Miami trailed 20-7 when he took the field for the first time.

“I understand my role,” Moore said. “My role is the backup quarterback on this team and when it’s time to play it’s time to play. Whatever happens, when you get the call to go, there’s obviously excitement, you’re fired up, you’re ready to go. I’ve done this for a long time.”

He might have to do it again next week against the king of the NFL mountain: Miami goes to New England next Sunday.

Here’s some of what to know after the Bucs’ win over the Dolphins:

IT GETS NO EASIER

The Dolphins are in huge trouble. They play New England twice in the next three weeks. They’re looking at probable cold-weather games at Buffalo and Kansas City on Dec. 17 and Dec. 24. And they have only one game left against a team currently below the .500 mark — that would be Denver at home on Dec. 3. Add in the injuries, roster shake-ups and now Cutler’s status, and things look bleak at best.

NEEDED ROAD WIN

Put simply, this was a road win that the Buccaneers needed to have after six consecutive losses away from Raymond James Stadium. They’re on the road each of the next two weeks as well, first at Atlanta and then at Green Bay. It will be far from an easy finish, but at least this win may give the Bucs some hope.

THREEPEAT

Fitzpatrick has now won on the Dolphins’ home field as a starter for three different teams. He beat the Dolphins in 2010 while with the Buffalo Bills, in 2015 while with the New York Jets, and now with the Bucs. In 11 appearances against Miami, he’s 6-5.

STILLS’ BIG DAY

Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills caught seven passes for a career-best 180 yards — matching the seventh-most by a receiver in Miami history.

Stills’ previous career best was 162 yards at Pittsburgh on Nov. 30, 2014, and he hauled in the 61-yard touchdown pass from Moore late in the fourth quarter to get the Dolphins even.

NO RUN

Take away Damien Williams’ 69-yard run on the second Miami snap from scrimmage, and neither team got a ground game going. Tampa Bay ran the ball 24 times for 53 yards; the Dolphins, without that big Williams run, had 14 yards on 18 carries. Williams’ nine other carries went for a total of 9 yards.