A Fitzmagical Journey
If you know anything about me from my twitter or other articles, it is that there is one constant throughout the entirety of my NFL fandom. No matter what team he plays for or how he performs, the feeling is always the same. I love Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Growing up a Buffalo Bills fan, I have had to watch Ryan Fitzpatrick play for my team for four years. I suffered through the incredibly foolish midseason extension he received after going 4-2 and watched him make miraculous plays while also sealing games with interceptions. I was one of the first to beg ownership to move on.
However, once he started travelling from team to team, Ryan Fitzpatrick began to grow on me. He was uniquely capable of entering the season as a team’s backup QB, winning the starting job, performing well enough to receive a contract extension, and then stinking up the place so badly that he was exiled to another team as their backup. Wash, rinse, repeat.
It is easy for someone to do this once. Matt Flynn, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, did this back in 2011. After the Packers had clinched the #1 overall seed that year, he started the final regular season game versus the Detroit Lions. In one game, he completed 70% of his passes for 480 yards and 6 TDs. He delivered one of the most shocking performances from a backup QB in recent memory.
That offseason, he signed a 3-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks. After stinking it up in training camp, the job was given to 3rd round pick Russell Wilson. You know the rest of the story from there. Flynn was released, bounced around to a few more teams in a reserve role, and was promptly booted out of the league from that point. To win a starting job for a team and get a contract extension once is incredible. What Ryan Fitzpatrick did was incomprehensible. He did it 8 times!
Let’s start from the beginning of this legend’s illustrious career and revel in the fact that a backup QB turned his rookie contract into the starting job for 8 different teams.
St. Louis Rams (2005-2006)
If you only know one thing about Ryan Fitzpatrick, it is that he is a Harvard man. In his college career, Fitzpatrick completed 60% of his passes for 5,234 yards, 39 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Coming into the draft season, there was not too much consideration into Fitzpatrick as a viable draft prospect. His main achievement of note was that he scored the highest on the Wonderlic Test, the pre-exam all quarterbacks take when entering the draft, of any prospect in draft history. He still maintains that record today.
With the 250th pick in the 2005 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams selected Fitzpatrick as a developmental prospect. While he was not slated to become a starter in his rookie year, he was forced into action after Rams’ quarterback Jamie Martin suffered an injury. Fitzpatrick would enter the game against the Houston Texans, down 24-3 in the second quarter, for his NFL game action of his career. And with that, a legend was born.
Fitzpatrick threw for 310 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT en route to a 33-27 overtime victory over the Texans. His 56 yard touchdown pass in overtime sealed a victory and caught the eyes of many NFL executives. He became one of five (now nine) quarterbacks to pass for 300 yards or more in their NFL debut and won Offensive Player of the Week. Fitzpatrick said after the game, “The biggest thing when you’re in those situations is you need to get everyone around you fired up. I knew there was no way we were going to lose that game.” For nearly 14 straight seasons, Fitzpatrick has taken that lesson to heart, as I don’t think there is another QB in this league who has more fun playing the position than Ryan Fitzpatrick.
With his incredible performance against Houston, Fitzpatrick took over the starting job. However, his performance in the next three games caused him to lose it once again, as he threw for 467 yards, 1 TD, and 7 INTs in three consecutive losses. The remainder of his career in St. Louis involved nothing of note, as he didn’t receive any more starts.
Cincinnati Bengals (2007-2008)
Before the beginning of the 2007 season, Fitzpatrick was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals for a 7th round pick. While he did not play in 2007, he once again gained the starting job in 2008 after Carson Palmer suffered an elbow injury. Fitzpatrick played 12 games, completing 59% of his passes for 1,905 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He also ran for 304 yards that year, which was the third highest among quarterbacks for that season.
With Carson Palmer returning for the following season and Fitzpatrick not doing anything of note with his starts, he was allowed to explore the market in free agency during the 2009 season. He would end up signing a 3-year 7.5 million dollar deal with the Buffalo Bills to be the backup behind Trent Edwards. This move would mark the beginning of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s rise to stardom, or at least notable mediocrity.
Buffalo Bills (2009-2012)
In the 2009 season, Fitzpatrick, for the third time in his young career, was thrust into action after starting QB Trent Edwards went down with an injury. In relief of Edwards, Fitzpatrick went 2-1, completing less than 50% of his passes in two of those games and failing to top 125 yards in all three. He threw for 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
However, during the bye week, the 3-5 Buffalo Bills figured they had nothing to lose and benched Trent Edwards for the rest of the season. Fitzpatrick started the rest of the way, going 3-5 down the stretch and putting up mediocre numbers in nearly every game. He finished the season with 1,400 passing yards and a 9:10 TD:INT ratio. The Bills had fired their coach in-season and were looking toward a new direction as a franchise.
In 2010, Chan Gailey took over as head coach. Trent Edwards was named the starter once again, but was eventually benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick two games into the regular season. Fitz went 4-9 in his 13 starts and had at least one touchdown pass in each game. He passed for 3,000 yards, 23 TDs, and 15 INTs, becoming the first Bills passer since 2006 to eclipse that passing yard threshold. Even though his performance was not spectacular, he made plays that were gravitating enough to convince the staff he should maintain the job going into the 2011 campaign.
The Bills staff relented and named Fitzpatrick the starter for the 2011 season. In his first six games, Fitzpatrick was one of the hottest QBs in the league. He averaged 246 passing yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT per game. The offense scored 31 points per game en route to a 4-2 record going into their Week 7 bye. His most notable game was a 38-35 victory over the Oakland Raiders, where he overcame a 21-3 halftime deficit by scoring 35 points in the second half. The Buffalo Bills, not having a competent QB since the 1990s, elected to lock up Fitzpatrick in-season and signed him to a six-year, $60 million extension on October 28th.
While that price tag may seem like peanuts compared to today’s QB contracts, it was a high price to pay back then for a QB who had been purely a backup his whole career. In his next game versus Washington, Fitzpatrick suffered broken ribs. He continued to play the rest of the season, but his play severely declined en route to a 2-8 record down the stretch. In those 10 games, he passed for 235 YPG, 1.2 TDs per game, and 1.7 INTs per game.
Despite his disastrous end to the 2011 campaign, the Bills were pot-committed. They paid Ryan Fitzpatrick and were hoping they hadn’t wasted all of their money on a backup. Fitzpatrick didn’t play terribly in 2012, passing for 3,400 yards, 24 TDs, and 16 INTs, but he ultimately went 6-10. With three straight seasons under .500, the Bills released Chan Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Tennessee Titans (2013)
While the Bills were mocked for releasing a QB barely a year into his new extension, the Titans capitalized and signed the veteran journeyman to a two-year deal to backup their starting QB Jake Locker. Guess what happened?
For the fourth time, the starting QB ahead of Fitzpatrick got injured and the “bearded wonder” was thrust into the lineup. As a starter, he threw for 2,500 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 12 INTs. He led the Titans to a 3-6 record, but ultimately was let go in the offseason.
Houston Texans (2014)
Four days after his release, the division rival Houston Texans signed Fitzpatrick to a two-year deal. He started the year as the QB1 for the Texans and went 4-5 in his first nine games. Given his mediocre performance , he was benched for former New England Patriot Ryan Mallet during their bye week. That wouldn’t stop Fitzpatrick, however, as Ryan Mallet would tear his pectoral muscle two games into his tenure.
At this point, it was beyond coincidence that the starter in front of Fitzpatrick would get injured. It happened everywhere he had been. Nonetheless, Fitzpatrick would re-enter the lineup versus the Tennessee Titans the next week.
Realizing that mediocre play wouldn’t warrant another starting job next year, Fitzpatrick rubbed his magic beard and turned on the heat. He ended up throwing for 358 yards and 6 touchdowns in a 45-21 drubbing over the Titans. Fitzpatrick fractured his tibia two games later against the Indianapolis Colts and finished his tenure as a Texan with a 6-6 record.
New York Jets (2015-2016)
Here is where the story gets good. During the 2015 offseason, the Texans traded Ryan Fitzpatrick to the New York Jets for a conditional late round draft pick. Fitzpatrick was slated to be the backup behind incumbent Geno Smith, who was the Jets’ 2nd round draft pick in the 2013 draft. The “Football gods” knew Geno had been relatively healthy and was unlikely to get injured, so they set a plan into motion.
During training camp, defensive lineman IK Enemkpali punched Geno Smith in the face and broke his jaw. Yes, that is a real thing that happened. With Geno Smith out for the foreseeable future, who was there lurking in the shadows to replace him? You guessed it! Ryan Fitzpatrick was named the starter for the New York Jets in Week 1.
Reunited with former HC Chan Gailey and having two great perimeter weapons at his disposal in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, Fitzpatrick had a career year. He threw for 3,905 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. He nearly broke the Jets’ franchise record for passing yardage in a season and, for the first time since 1998, generated two 1,000-yard receivers for the New York Jets.
After compiling a 9-5 record in his first 14 games, he played a home game against the vaunted New England Patriots. If the Jets won their final two games, they would make the postseason for the first time since 2010. He threw for 296 yards and 3 TDs, including the game winner in overtime to Eric Decker in the right corner of the end zone. With one more win, Ryan Fitzpatrick would make the playoffs for the first time in his career.
If you have been following this tale thus far, you know that Fitzpatrick giveth and Fitzpatrick taketh away. In a road game against his former Buffalo Bills team, Fitzpatrick threw 3 INTs in the fourth quarter to lose the game 22-17. With the Jets loss and the Steelers win over the Browns, the Jets were eliminated from playoff contention.
In the 2016 offseason, the Jets had a huge decision to make. Fitzpatrick just had the best statistical year of his career and was now a pending free agent. The Jets, knowing his history, did not want to overpay for Fitzpatrick; but, they also did not want to lose the best quarterback they’ve had in years. After an offseason standstill, the parties agreed to a one-year, $12 million fully guaranteed contract on July 27th.
Now that Fitzpatrick had the money and the starting job, he could go back to classic “Fitztragic.” He started 11 games after being benched multiple times, throwing for 2,710 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. The Jets were bamboozled by Fitzpatrick and went 5-11 in the 2016 season. Unsurprisingly, they did not extend his contract the following year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2017-2018)
In the 2017 offseason, Fitzpatrick was looking for a new home where he could reclaim the starting job and potentially build off of his magical 2015 season. He signed with Tampa Bay on a one-year $3 million contract to backup 2015 1st round pick Jameis Winston. Do I really have to tell you what happened next?
Winston suffered an injury in Week 6, because of course he did. Fitzpatrick entered the game completing 69% of his passes for 290 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions in a 38-33 loss. Jameis once again got hurt in Week 9, and Fitzpatrick played four more games, going 2-2 and throwing for 813 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception in those contests. His performance as a backup warranted a one-year contract extension from the Tampa Bay brass.
In 2018, with Winston all healed, it looked as though Fitzmagic was forced to be a backup once again. But the NFL had other plans. Jameis Winston had been suspended the first three games due to an offseason incident and Fitzpatrick was made the tentative starter. In Week 1, Fitzpatrick completed 75% of his passes for 417 yards and 5 total touchdowns in an upset win over the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome. The league went nuts.
He continued his dominance in Week 2, completing 82% of his passes for 402 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception in a six-point victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Tampa Bay receivers Mike Evans, Desean Jackson, and Chris Godwin were having career games. The controversy spread like wildfire throughout social media, as everyone wondered whether Fitzpatrick would take the starting job for Jameis Winston.
In Week 3, Fitz threw for 411 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football. Despite the loss, he made NFL history by passing for more than 400 yards in three consecutive games. The Bucs had no choice but to name him the starter over Jameis Winston for Week 4.
That was all Fitzmagic needed to hear, as he made sure the front office would regret that decision. Against the Chicago Bears, he only threw for 126 yards and one interception in a 48-10 loss. He was subsequently benched.
Winston was quick to make Fitzpatrick’s benching look like a foolish move, and he eventually lost his starting job once again after a string of poor performances. Fitzpatrick entered the Week 8 game against the Cincinnati Bengals for Jameis down 34-16. He threw for 194 yards and 2 TDs, overcoming the 18-point deficit and forcing overtime. Unfortunately, the Bengals prevailed in OT and Fitzpatrick lost. Fitzpatrick would start three more games that season, throwing for 4 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in three straight losses. Jameis Winston reclaimed the job in Week 12.
Miami Dolphins (2019)
In the 2019 offseason, Fitzpatrick signed a two-year $11 million contract with the Miami Dolphins. While he was projected to be the starter under new coach Brian Flores, the Dolphins traded a 2019 second round selection for former Arizona first round quarterback Josh Rosen during the draft. With the Dolphins in full rebuild mode, most expected Rosen to be given the starting job.
Without fail, Fitzpatrick won the job in training camp and started the first two games of the year against the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. He failed mightily in those performances, throwing for a combined 274 yards, 1 touchdown, and 4 interceptions. His two pick-sixes versus New England caused him to be benched for Josh Rosen.
Like all of Fitzpatrick’s former QB teammates, he was better than them. It was not a high bar to achieve, but he was more skilled than them nonetheless. Rosen played in five total games, throwing for 567 yards, 1 touchdown, and 5 interceptions. He had an abysmal QBR of 18.3 and lost all of his starts. He was benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 6 versus Washington.
As the story always goes, Fitzpatrick overcame a two-score deficit and scored what was potentially the game tying touchdown versus the Redskins. Electing to go for the two point conversion instead of sending the game to overtime, the Dolphins failed to punch it in and subsequently lost their 5th straight game.
The 2019 Dolphins were a dumpster fire, sending many of their high profile players away in exchange for draft picks and “tanking” for the first overall selection. Despite this, Fitzpatrick played remarkably well. In his remaining 11 starts, Fitzpatrick went 5-6, throwing for 3,094 yards, 18 TDs, and 9 INTs. He also ran the ball 54 times for 243 yards and 4 TDs during the 2019 season.
In his crowning achievement, Fitzpatrick went into Foxborough last Sunday as a 17.5 point underdog and beat the New England Patriots, whom needed to win to obtain a first round bye. He completed 68% of his passes for 320 yards and scored 2 total touchdowns versus the #1 defense in the league.
Fitzpatrick revived the career of former first round bust Devante Parker, whom set a career high with 1,202 receiving yards and 9 TDs. Fitzpatrick also led his team in rushing, becoming the oldest player in NFL history (37 years old) to lead his team in rushing. He took one of the most untalented rosters in football and made them competitive.
The Future (2020-)
Fitzpatrick is still under contract with the Miami Dolphins in 2020, but with the Dolphins having three picks in the first round of this year’s draft, it seems unlikely that Fitzpatrick will retain the starting role over an incoming rookie QB. He may be used as a bridge quarterback, but at 37 years old, he is nothing more than a veteran stopgap.
Still, he has impacted the fates of so many franchises throughout the years. He has been the starter for 8 total teams and has set records with many of them. He leads all Houston Texans’ quarterbacks with the most TD passes in a single game. He has the most passing yards of any Bills QB since 2002 and of any Jets QB since 1967. He is the first quarterback with three consecutive 400 yard games and had multiple comebacks and shocking victories throughout his career.
For a seventh round pick out of Harvard, he has made an indelible impact on this game and is one of the most fun quarterbacks to watch. He’s like a kid playing backyard football. He will chuck it all over the field, dive head first into a defender, and will be “fired up” for every game.
He does not have the stats, talent, or wins to even be considered for the Hall of Fame, but he will be one of the most memorable quarterbacks in my lifetime. He is one of the few non-franchise quarterbacks that has the potential to win any game by himself. He’s not the best, but when the light shines on him and he’s thrust into the lineup for the umpteenth time, he can do something unbelievable. It’s Fitzmagic.