Subbing for suspended starting quarterback Jameis Winston, veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns, including scoring passes of 58 and 36 yards to DeSean Jackson, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hung on for a 48-40 season-opening victory over the New Orleans Saints Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Fitzpatrick completed 21 of 28 passes and led the Bucs to scores on seven of their first nine possessions. His crucial 12-yard scramble on third-and-11 with 2 minutes left blunted a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Saints from a 24-point deficit with 8:54 left.
The Bucs did not punt until midway through the third quarter. Jackson had five catches for 146 yards before leaving with a concussion, and Mike Evans had seven catches for 147 yards and one touchdown.
The Bucs led 31-24 at halftime and scored on five of their first six possessions - three touchdowns and field goals of 33 and 36 yards by Chandler Catanzaro. They also got a 34-yard scoop and score by safety Justin Evans after a second-quarter fumble by newly acquired Saints running back Mike Gillislee.
Evans' fumble return gave Tampa Bay a 31-17 lead late in the second quarter, but Drew Brees cut the deficit to 31-24 by taking the Saints 75 yards in nine plays and hitting wide-open Michael Thomas for a 6-yard score 55 seconds before halftime.
Brees finished 37-of-45 passing for 439 yards and three scores.
The teams combined for 550 yards of total offense in the first half - 278 for Tampa Bay and 272 for New Orleans. In the first half, Fitzpatrick was 11-of-14 passing for 210 yards with touchdown passes of 58 yards to a wide-open Jackson and 9 yards to Chris Godwin. Fitzpatrick also scored from 3 yards out on a read option in the first quarter.
The Saints' offense tried to keep pace, and Brees was almost perfect in the first half, going 17-of-21 for 238 yards and two scores. In addition to his 6-yard toss to Thomas, he threw 28 yards to Ted Ginn Jr. for a first-quarter TD, and the Saints also scored on a 5-yard run by Alvin Kamara and a 36-yard field goal by Wil Lutz.
Tampa Bay took control, 41-24, on Fitzpatrick's 50-yard strike to Evans with 2:58 left in the third quarter. The Saints scored on Kamara's 1-yard run and a 2-point conversion with 8:54 left, making it 48-32, and added another TD and 2-point conversion with 3:31 left, making it 48-40.
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