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Bucs OC Todd Monken called plays in first NFL game, set records and was ‘numb’

TAMPA — It was the first interception of the day by the Bucs. As Todd Monken walked to the locker room after Sunday's 48-40 season-opening win over the Saints, left tackle Donovan Smith cut in front of him, pounded the offensive coordinator's chest, grabbed him by the collar and shook him before putting him in a choke hold.

The unnecessary roughness was in response to Monken hanging a franchise game record for points on the scoreboard in his first time calling plays in the NFL.

"I thought (Smith) was just going to give me a little dap, and he shook me like, if you've ever seen (the movie) Happy Gilmore, when he shakes his caddie or something," Monken said. "I felt like that guy out there."

The celebration continued inside the locker room when Monken encountered quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who enjoyed a rebirth by throwing for a career-high 417 yards and four touchdowns, and running for another score.

"He was excited. I was kind of numb," Monken said Thursday. "When it goes like that, you're a little numb and you've got to wake up. I'm serious. That doesn't happen very often. You react to it. You just reflect back to all the things you worked (on) with the guys in camp and the meetings and all those things, talking about receivers and their releases and holding their line and then giving them a chance.

"All the things you worked on, you're going, 'Boy, this is fun.' And you're relieved. You just are because of all you've put into it."

Monken was quick to deflect the credit to coach Dirk Koetter, who made the decision to hand over play-calling duties to him. Fox sideline reporter Laura Okmin said during the game broadcast that Koetter told her it was difficult giving up something that is the reason why "you're a head coach in the first place." Koetter was the Bucs' offensive coordinator when he was hired to replace fired head coach Lovie Smith in 2016.

But with the offense playing well in the first three preseason games this year with Monken calling the plays, the Bucs averaged more than 28 points per game while their top three quarterbacks didn't thrown an interception.

With quarterback Jameis Winston suspended for the first three games of the regular season by the NFL for violating the league's player-conduct policy, Fitzpatrick prepared hard to be ready against the Saints by taking first-team reps in practice.

The extra work showed. All 12 passes targeted to receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson connected for a combined 293 yards and three touchdowns.

"That's the first part, putting together a really good plan," Monken said. "We've got really good players, and I thought they executed the plan about as well as they could. I thought our receivers did a really good job with their route running. We had excellent protection. (Fitzpatrick) was very accurate, really good with his decision making. He got us into some really good plays."

The Bucs rolled up 529 yards of total offense. Perhaps Fitzpatrick's most important play was his first touchdown to Jackson after the Saints had taken a 7-0 lead.

"We dialed that up last year in the game against them,'' Monken said. "We had (Adam) Humphries in that position, and Jameis missed him. We got it again, and we thought we'd have an opportunity, and 'Fitz' did a great job of looking off the safety. … The guys executed. "

The game validated Koetter's decision to make Monken a full-time offensive coordinator, taking away his other duties as receivers coach. Monken was able to have an impact on all positions on offense, and the Bucs executed at a higher level during training camp and the preseason.

"It's definitely still a collective effort," Fitzpatrick said. "(Monken) does such a great job. He watches so much film during the week. He's up there grinding all the time. The other thing is, when we meet and the different voices in the room and everybody being on the same page, that's been nice. It's been nice to have Todd in our (quarterbacks) room more this year."

Monken was a successful offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State from 2011-12, when the Cowboys averaged 48.7 points, second in the nation, and 45.7, third in the nation, respectively. He also called plays as the head coach at Southern Miss.

But never had Monken had a better debut as a play caller than Sunday.

"The numbness part is when you've spent three hours mentally working through the game plan and the calls you're going to make," Monken said. "Then at the end, excited for the guys."

Fitzpatrick is with his seventh NFL team and is likely keeping the seat warm for Winston. But he says he's playing as well now as ever. When he arrived home Sunday night, the expected party with his wife and six kids was rather subdued.

"It's was bedtime for the girls. The boys were excited. It wasn't as big of a party as I thought it was going to be. We had some chocolate milk and went to bed," he said.

And hopefully they raised a glass to Monken, toast of the town.

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