Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick changed hats once again Sunday, turning himself back into the team’s leader, as he led the Jets to a 24-16 come-from-behind victory.
But as fans have seen with many quarterbacks, including Fitzpatrick throughout his career, it’s much easier to be the backup coming in with low expectations than the starter with high team aspirations.
If not for Smith’s injury ending his season, Fitzpatrick would be right back on the bench where he belongs.
Even including his heroics in Week 7, the veteran signal caller has been one of the worst under center in 2016. He leads the league with 11 interceptions, and through seven games, the only quarterback with even 10 is Rams signal caller Case Keenum.
Fitzpatrick is also ranked 28th in yards per attempt (6.59) and dead last in completion percentage (57.4). The player grades at Pro Football Focus rank him 31st among 34 eligible quarterbacks.
With that kind of play, it’s hard to see why Fitzpatrick remained the team’s starter for as long as he did. Head coach Todd Bowles likely has even less confidence in Geno Smith, so he stuck by Fitzpatrick as long as he could.
However, after Fitzpatrick was 16-of-31 for 174 yards with one interception, and the team scored just three points on Monday Night Football, Bowles had little choice but to make a change.
That’s why the comments from the “Amish Rifle” immediately after Sunday’s victory came across as head-scratching at best and whiny at worst.
“The biggest thing in this game, in order to last, is to have belief in yourself,” Fitzpatrick said after Sunday’s win. “Because when the owner stops believing in you and the GM stops believing in you and the coaches stop believing in you, sometimes all you have is yourself. That’s something that I’ve had to deal with before. That’s something I’m dealing with now.”
A lot has been written about this quote already, including a great piece from Andrew Garda of Today’s Pigskin. Bowles and even the players seem on board with these comments as long as it leads to Fitzpatrick returning to form as he somewhat did against the Ravens. But the fact remains that Fitzpatrick had no one to blame for his benching but himself.
It’s also a fact that the Jets will enter yet another offseason and really not know what they have in Smith. The former second-round pick has 30 starts in his four-year NFL career, but just one (this past Sunday) in the last two years.
Smith is 12-18 as a starter, and the numbers aren’t good, so it would be easy to say after four years, it’s time to cut bait. However, the last time he was a full-time starter, Smith did show promise. He threw for 1,001 yards, six touchdowns and just two interceptions in the final four games of 2014. He averaged 9.18 yards per attempt and completed 65.1 percent of his passes during that stretch.
Is that small sample size of success worth keeping Smith around to see if he is healthy next year? A lot probably depends upon how Fitzpatrick plays during the second half and how his potential contract negotiations would go next summer.
But there are also two other quarterbacks on the roster, and if Fitzpatrick remains the starter, the Jets won’t learn anything about them this season either. Bowles said in September he’s willing to give rookie Christian Hackenberg a redshirt year, but Bryce Petty, now in his second season, hasn’t appeared in a regular season game either.
Fitzpatrick is the only hope the Jets have of a miraculous turnaround this season, but with five division games left, including two with the Patriots, chances of a playoff run are grim. Even if they aren’t quite ready, Petty or Hackenberg should start in the not so distance future.