There’s a fearless sensibility about the man that makes you wonder how dangerous the Jets would be if every man around him shared that quality.
Confidence has never been a problem for Ryan Fitzpatrick even when he lived on the outskirts of relevance all those years.
So, it’s no surprise that he has embraced this moment when it would have been easy to downplay it. It comes with the unofficial job description. The Jets’ 2016 playoff hopes hinge on Fitzpatrick, which suits him just fine.
He is good enough to carry out the prime directive.
“Every quarterback that wins the Super Bowl is an absolute hero,” Fitzpatrick told the Daily News in a quiet moment this week. “Everyone that doesn’t makes the playoffs is an absolute zero. Is that necessarily the case? Maybe not. But it’s the nature of the position. You’re going to have all eyes on you all the time.”
From his six-month long contract impasse that dominated the off-season headlines to his matter-of-fact admission that he ultimately chose to bet on himself by signing a one-year deal, Fitzpatrick is as much the everyman as he is the Harvard Man, a born leader with a killer instinct.
“I know what the situation is,” Fitzpatrick said about external expectations this year. “It’s not even about the money. I got to play well to make all these guys happy to win games. That’s all that matters for me in my career right now: Winning.”
The playoffs have escaped him in a career that has included five stops in the first 10 years. He’s been branded a “journeyman,” which is akin to a four-letter word in his line of work, but he couldn’t care less. Hopefully, the sixth team is a charm.
Defending himself is wasted energy at this point. Critics will never disappear.
The question running on a loop this summer: The Jets seem to have the requisite talent to be a playoff contender, but can Fitzpatrick duplicate his success from a year ago?
It’s a loaded question, of course, given all the variables out of Fitzpatrick’s control (see: offensive line), but that’s life as a quarterback.
“People keep asking me that, but I hope I don’t duplicate what I did last year,” Fitzpatrick said. “I hope I play a lot better than that. I know it was a career year in terms of some of the numbers, but there’s so many things that I can be better at as a player. … There’s a lot for me to improve on from last year. I feel like I?m a better player now than I was last year than I was the year before. So I expect better things out of me this year.”
It was a dream season that included a franchise-record 31 touchdowns and career-high 3,905 yards. He did it all after getting thrust into the starting job 48 hours before the first preseason game. His shared understanding with offensive coordinator Chan Gailey buoyed him during the Jets 10-win season. His bond with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker will only get stronger in their second year in the same system.
Expectations are high, but it sure beats the alternative. Fitzpatrick’s past has provided a perspective that makes the pressure manageable even in a place filled with frustrated playoff-starved patrons conditioned to turn on their own after a while.
“It’s been such a bumpy road for me to get here,” Fitzpatrick said. “To me, all this is icing on the cake. I’ve battled through so much adversity in my career … mainly losses and downs and not many ups. But this is fun for me to come to work every single day. There’s not a ton of pressure on me. ? No slight to any other team I’ve been on, but it’s a very confident feeling for me when I walk into the huddle and look at the other guys that are standing in there with me.”
He’s 33, not 63, even though some of his doubters act as if he should be talking snaps from a rocking chair. He has plenty of quality football left in his body. His mind is sharper than ever, but he is far from a finished product. He knows that his 59.6 completion percentage from a year ago must improve.
There are two other areas that he has paid special attention to that could make all the difference if the Jets hope to break a five-year playoff drought: Third-down and red-zone efficiency.
The Jets were 12th in third-down completion rate (40.6 percent) last year. Although Fitzpatrick threw 23 touchdowns and only one interception in the red zone, he wants to get better. “Those are two key things for me to focus on,” the quarterback said.
He has finally found a home, but doesn’t spend time wondering how his career would have unfolded had he come here years ago. What if?
“The timing ? what led me here with these players ? is perfect,” Fitzpatrick said before pausing for a moment. “The timing is perfect. I wouldn’t change it.”
He’s ready for whatever awaits.
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