NEW ORLEANS -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had just gotten back to the visiting locker room after pulling off a stunning 48-40 win against the New Orleans Saints when wide receiver Freddie Martino pulled out his phone and made a startling discovery -- quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was blowing up all over social media as an Internet meme.
One meme turned Fitzpatrick into the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Another turned Fitzpatrick into Harry Potter. There was even a fake advertisement with him, with the words, "Believe in magic. Even if it's Fitz-magic," which Martino held up and numerous players burst into laughter.
Several lockers over, an unassuming Fitzpatrick chuckled, too. He was video-calling his wife Liza, who had stayed in Tampa with family, for a quick celebration.
He then made his way to the podium, not in a custom-tailored suit like many of his teammates were wearing as they got onto the bus, but in shorts and a black and grey sweatshirt -- quiet and unassuming.
Dirk Koetter proclaimed, "Fitz-magic is alive and well!" and now it was time for reporters to ask Fitzpatrick what he thought about it. And how he felt about becoming an Internet meme.
"It's been thrown around here or there in a couple different places, but I guess I've been called worse things, so I'm OK with it," said the journeyman quarterback, who threw four touchdowns and rushed for a fifth in his 120th start for his seventh team.
As for the meme?
"I thought it was called 'me-me.' Meme, huh?" he said, which drew several laughs from reporters. "Yeah I don't really look at those. Some of the guys in the locker room were showing them to me. ... I stay away from that cause there's plenty of bad stuff out there, too."
There wasn't much of the bad stuff to be found on Sunday. When many predicted the Bucs would start the season 0-3 without starting quarterback Jameis Winston, Fitzpatrick stepped up and delivered, dime throw after dime throw, ending up with 417 passing yards. His 156.3 passer rating was better than any other quarterback Sunday, including Aaron Rodgers.
Fitzpatrick hit DeSean Jackson in stride with deep throws multiple times -- something Jackson and Winston never did in a game and struggled with all last season. Fitzpatrick fed the ball to nine different targets, with three different receivers catching touchdowns. Jackson finished with 146 yards on five catches and Mike Evans had 147 yards on seven catches.
"The whole time on the sideline, before the presnap and all that, before they get the play in there, we were already like, 'OK, Mike [Evans] is gonna get it this time or D-Jax is gonna get it this time," said Martino. "We all kinda know where it's gonna go at, depending on the coverage, so we kinda already knew, but everything had to click together for it to happen the right way and it did today."
There was also the back-shoulder fade to Chris Godwin, and putting the ball up where only big bodies O.J. Howard and Evans could grab it, even slipping it past NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore. He also went barreling into safety Marcus Williams, who is 14 years younger than Fitzpatrick, lowering his head to cross the goal line.
"It was awesome," said Evans. "I hope somebody had him in fantasy today, because he went crazy. And he was running the ball so ... it was a phenomenal game. One of the most complete games I've seen from a QB."
Added running back Jacquizz Rodgers: "We all knew what Fitz can do. It's no surprise to us. Fitz can run the ball, so we're not surprised. It's what he showed us all OTAs and since he got here."
Koetter took flak for giving Fitzpatrick the majority of first-team reps in training camp. Critics said demoting Winston to third-string might also send the wrong message to their franchise quarterback.
Koetter and general manager Jason Licht were also criticized when neither would declare who the Bucs' starting quarterback would be when Winston returned from his suspension in Week 4. If Fitzpatrick keeps playing this way, Bucs management will look smart for the way it handled the situation.
That decision will have to be made -- whether the Bucs ride the wave of momentum with a Fitzpatrick, whose 156.3 passer rating was the second-highest mark in franchise history, or go with Winston, who is to make $21 million next season and is still considered the organization's future (although they could technically get out of paying him that next season).
Becoming the Bucs' full-time starter hasn't been the main concern for Fitzpatrick, who returned to Tampa this offseason on a one-year deal.
"I came back because I like playing football and I enjoy being here. That was the main reason I came back," said Fitzpatrick. He has also noted how much he values the working relationship he has with Winston.
The two things Fitzpatrick is thinking about right now are celebrating the win and preparing to host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
"There are so many high-highs and there are so many low-lows in this game," Fitzpatrick said. "My wife, especially, and the kids have kind of been through it all with me. You learn to enjoy these. We'll take a night to enjoy it and then we'll move on."