Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been on six different teams in his 12-year NFL career. His performance in the Jets’ 28–3 Monday night loss to the Cardinals—which saw him get benched for backup quarterback Geno Smith in the fourth quarter—was a clear reminder of why teams have never been too interested in keeping him around for very long.
If you flash back to the summer, you might remember how much was made out of Fitzpatrick’s unwillingness to budge on contract talks this off-season. As the drama with the veteran dragged on, many postulated that the team’s success was incumbent upon the journeyman’s return. Will he or won’t he?! If he won’t, the Jets’ season will surely go down the drain! Their other options are Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg! They need him back!
Well, turns out, Fitzpatrick did come back, and guess what? The Jets’ season went down the drain anyway. Monday night’s loss, a game where Fitzpatrick went 16 of 31 for 174 yards and one interception, virtually guarantees they won’t be active members of the playoff hunt this year.
It would be unfair and unwise to say that the team’s failures are all because of Fitzpatrick. After all, he didn’t have anything to do with giving up three touchdowns to David Johnson on Monday night. And he’s not responsible for the running game only gaining 33 yards. But the 2016 Jets are a poorly disciplined team (10 penalties for 83 yards on Monday) with an awful secondary which deserves a whole separate story written about its many woes. Wide receiver Eric Decker, who had 12 touchdowns and 1,027 yards last year, is on IR. Todd Bowles has made some head-scratching coaching decisions over the Jets’ first six games. They have had an incredibly difficult schedule to start the year, but make no qualms about it: They are a bad team.
But it is not unfair to say that an enormous part of why they are a bad team is because Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a very bad quarterback. The Jets made a mistake in assuming that if they got him back, he’d be able to take control of the offense and turn it into the same productive unit it was last year, when it totaled 5,925 yards. He has not been consistent and he has not been reliable in 2016. Fitzpatrick has the most interceptions in the league, including the most in the red zone. Over the last four games, he is 84 of 154 for 878 yards, 2 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He is not the answer, and in reality, he never really was—he was never going to be the long-term solution, and that’s what the Jets have always been in need of at the quarterback position.
Fitzpatrick somehow kept his starting job after throwing six—count ‘em, six!—interceptions against the Chiefs in Week 3, but finally was benched for Smith on Monday night. Perhaps the most troubling part of Fitzpatrick’s performance this season is how truly clueless he has looked. For all the mentions of his Harvard education (drink every time Jon Gruden mentions it!), he has not been playing smart football. The Jets offensive line needs to give him better protection, but Fitzpatrick has been making bad throws all year. He’s been flat out missing his targets (and boy did he miss a lot on Monday night—an overthrow to Jalin Marshall in the third quarter comes to mind right away, though there are quite a few to choose from), which has cost the offense clear-cut first downs. He’s been telegraphing his throws, which has led to horrible interceptions—like the one in the end zone to D.J. Swearinger on the only impressive drive the team was able to put together all game against Arizona—and has made his receivers vulnerable to huge hits. Fitzpatrick did all of these things Monday, but he’s been doing all of these things all season.
It is the Jets’ fault for, during the off-season, continuing to believe that they did not need a true, reliable backup option in case Fitzpatrick’s performance tailed off from last season. They have kept 2015 draft pick Bryce Petty around, but he’s been inactive. They drafted Christian Hackenberg in the second round of the 2016 draft, but he is nowhere near NFL-ready, and that was clear from the start. (Meanwhile, Dak Prescott remained on the board until the 4th round, and yet New York didn’t seem to think he would be a worthwhile fit for its team.)
And as for Smith, well, the backup has been frustrated all season as he’s been kept on the sidelines during Fitzpatrick’s many on-field meltdowns. Tonight, he finally saw the field in the fourth quarter, but finished 4 of 6 for 31 yards, an interception and a sack.
Barring an incredible run to end the season, 2016 is already a lost cause for the Jets, which means they need to use the rest of the season to figure out once and for all if Smith is worth keeping around, even in a backup position. His one drive of action Monday night didn’t do much to bolster his cause, but he needs to be given the opportunity as the starting quarterback for the rest of the season. Fitzpatrick has had his opportunities this season, and he’s shown enough. Todd Bowles said after the game that Fitzpatrick will be the starter against the Ravens, which is yet another bad decision in a string of them. The Jets need to start thinking ahead now, because they didn’t do so last off-season, and now they’re paying the price.
Sometimes, mediocre, journeymen quarterbacks have good years. Ryan Fitzpatrick had one last year, and it wasn’t his first. He’s been a solid option to have in the league over the last decade-plus. But he can’t be a team’s only option.
Because most of the time, mediocre journeymen quarterbacks are journeymen for a reason.