Being thrust into the starting quarterback position for the New York Jets after Geno Smith was, literally, knocked out of it, Ryan Fitzpatrick may be the guy to lead them to the playoffs in 2015.
By Jeff Weisinger
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a Harvard grad, to realize that the New York Jets have been one of the jokes of the NFL for the last five years. Between having a struggling defense and no quarterback, the Jets floated around the AFC East since their last playoff appearance in 2010.
However, it may take a Harvard grad to lead them back into January football for the first time in five years.
Coming into Jets camp and coming off of a torn ACL, Ryan Fitzpatrick was expected to be the backup to potential-franchise quarterback Geno Smith. However, after Smith and former teammate IK Enemkpali got into a fight during camp, which resulted in Smith, literally, getting knocked out of the starter’s spot with a broken jaw, Fitzpatrick has stepped in and has done what Geno hasn’t: win games.
Fitzpatrick has led the Jets to a 4-1 start to the season, right behind the New England Patriots for first place in the division (5-0) who they play on Sunday at Foxborough.
“The Patriots are still king – not only of our division, but the league,” offensive lineman Willie Colon said of the defending Super Bowl champs. “We’ve played those guys enough to know what type of football they play. If we’re not on our p’s and q’s, we’re going to get embarrassed.”
While their upcoming game against the Patriots looks like their toughest challenge of the season on paper, the Jets offense has looked much smoother and more dynamic this year compared to the last two years with Smith under center.
“We have a special team,” wide receiver Brandon Marshall said, “and the scary part is we have a long way to go.”
A lot of that is due to the fairly solid, non-erratic play of their quarterback.
Fitzpatrick has thrown for 1,177 yards with nine touchdowns and seven picks, completing 62.6 percent of his passes in five games this season – nothing spectacular, however numbers typical for Fitzpatrick. He has thrived, however, in Chan Gailey’s offense, one that he also thrived under in their time together in Buffalo. He’s led the Jets offense to averaging about 20 points per game, completed 60 percent of his passes in four of his five starts, and recorded a quarterback rating over 100 for the first time this season on Sunday. His 4-1 start is also his best start to a season in his career.
Fitzpatrick is a combined 9-12 as a starter in the last two years combined.
But the Jets are going to get close to the question of whether to give Geno back his job by the end of the month, or whether to stick with the hot, or warm, hand of the 10-year vet Fitzpatrick. The Jets already came out of their bye-week strong, the same way they went into it, and after New England have to possibly winnable games at Oakland and against the Jaguars at MetLife Stadium.
Fitzpatrick has played and started all 16 games of a season just twice in his career (2011-12 at Buffalo) and given the knee injury he’s returned from and the fact that he likes to run without sliding, questions about his long-term durability could come into play as we draw closer to the halfway point of the season.
But Fitzpatrick has shown everyone something that most recent Jet quarterbacks haven’t shown in the last half-decade: grit.
— NFL (@NFL) October 18, 2015
Despite putting his 33-year-old body and rehabbed knee on the line, Fitzpatrick’s 18-yard touchdown run to put the Jets ahead 20-13 with just over 10 minutes left in the third sparked the Jets rally, then his pair of touchdown passes to Marshall and Eric Decker, two other reasons for his success, helped seal the Jets’ second-straight win since their Week 3 loss to Philly.
“Every time he crosses the line of scrimmage, I get worried,” Jets Head Coach Todd Bowles said.
Where other older, non-mobile quarterbacks (i.e. Eli Manning, Carson Palmer) would’ve looked to slide with three, possibly four defenders in his vicinity, Fitzpatrick cut back inside and dove forward, over the goal line. It was the longest rushing play by a Jets quarterback since Richard Todd in 1980.
Fitzpatrick is nothing like Michael Vick, however his elusiveness has been a pleasant surprise for the Jets since he reported to camp this summer.
But with the top defense in the league behind him, Fitzpatrick has also been one of the best game-managers the Jets have had under center since a guy named Chad Pennington … perhaps. Fitzpatrick doesn’t really look for the big play, in ways that Geno does, nor does he make too many sloppy, careless mistakes, despite tossing seven picks so far this season. His ability to manage a game better than Geno has sparked this entire Jets team. It’s allowed his big play receivers and runningbacks to make the big plays, unforced and allowed the defense to play a bit more aggressive, knowing that they have an offense behind them that can score when needed.
He hasn’t been perfect, and there’s still 11 more games for him to collapse. However, with the Jets off to their best start since 2010 and strongly on their way to the first of two huge divisional games against the Patriots, Geno’s time on the bench could be extended for another 11 weeks.
Then again, Geno’s time with the Jets could also be shortened, by a quarterback who also had to study in college.
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