TAMPA — The news of Jameis Winston's suspension to start this season likely means the Bucs will have veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick stepping in at quarterback for the first three games of the regular season.
Fitzpatrick took over as the starter for three games last season when Winston was sidelined with a shoulder injury. He went 2-1 in those games, helping the Bucs to victories against the Dolphins and Jets.
Fitzpatrick limited his mistakes in those three starts, with one interception in 115 passes, while throwing for three touchdowns and 745 yards.
Fitzpatrick's next three games will not be nearly as easy, ranking among the most difficult on the team's schedule this year, all against 2017 division champions.
The Bucs open at New Orleans against the NFC South champion, then play host to defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia, before another home game on a Monday night against AFC North winner Pittsburgh. Those three opponents went a combined 37-11 last season.
At 35, Fitzpatrick is hardly the oldest quarterback to open a season as the Bucs' starter. Brad Johnson started the 2004 season a day before his 36th birthday, Jeff Garcia was 38 in 2008, and Steve DeBerg was 39 in 1993.
As a general rule, older quarterbacks have not fared well in leading the Bucs to victories, as Tampa Bay is 20-45 all time with a quarterback age 35 or older throwing 10 or more passes in a game.
For his career, Fitzpatrick has passed for 26,991 yards and 173 touchdowns against 136 interceptions. Last year's 2-1 record marked just the second time in his 13 NFL seasons that he had a winning record as a starter; he went 10-6 with the Jets in 2015.
Winston's three-game suspension now means Ryan Griffin is the team's top backup. Griffin, 28, has spent the past three seasons as a backup, but he has never played a snap in a regular-season game.