by Paul West
After an up & down offseason, the New York Jets went into training camp with a sense of hope they hadn’t had since Rex Ryan‘s early years with the team. They brought in a new head coach, Todd Bowles, who looked like he’d increase team discipline without being overbearing or draconian. They acquired an ace wideout in Brandon Marshall, who seemed excited to be a Jet and instantly raised the offensive ceiling. They brought back top wideout Eric Decker, whose elite status is debated but is at the very least a dangerous weapon who can explode and take over a game. They had a solid running game with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, and a strong defense with improved balance from front to back. They also had a new offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey, to upgrade the Jets’ use of their new weaponry.
Then a fringe player clocked quarterback Geno Smith in a locker room altercation, breaking his jaw and seemingly perpetuating the curse that many think looms over the franchise. Journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick was brought in to shepherd the offense, in a high floor/low ceiling maneuver that drew mixed reviews.
So far, so good.
In week one, Fitzpatrick did just what the Jets hoped he’d do: managed the offense, spread the ball around, and played efficiently. And while the offense is trying to gel and acclimate to their new coordinator’s scheme, this might be just what the doctor ordered. Fitzpatrick has has done reasonably well at times in his career, with less to work with than he has now. He isn’t flashy, but he’s extremely accurate and well seasoned. As the Harvard starting quarterback in 2004, he was MVP of the Ivy League–not exactly a highly touted conference, but Division I nonetheless. And his accuracy allows him to hit receivers in stride, allowing Decker and Marshall to explode for yards after the catch. He’s more athletic than people give him credit for being, and his ability to throw the midrange ball is well suited for the spread offense Gailey seems to be trying to instill. Oh yeah: he and Gailey have worked together before. Fitzpatrick was the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills for most of the three years during which Gailey was their head coach. Fitzpatrick was up & down during his tenure with the Bills; he threw for 3,832 yards in 2011, despite playing much of the season with fractured ribs. In 2014, he broke the Houston Texans‘ franchise record with 358 passing yards in a game, in which he threw six touchdowns and no interceptions and earned a 147.5 passer rating. His career is scattered with stellar performances, and he’s thrown for 300 yards 11 times in his career–including in his debut, with the St. Louis Rams.
On top of everything else, Fitzpatrick isn’t a bad example for Smith to follow. Both have moderate athleticism, and while Geno has a stronger deep arm he’s also working hard on his game management skills. Watching Fitzpatrick run the offense might work wonders for him once he (presumably) resumes control.
The Jets are 2-0 with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. They won their season opener against a tough Cleveland Browns defense, and dominated a Monday Night Football matchup with Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Fitzpatrick is comfortable in Chan Gailey’s system, and the Jets’ running game will prevent him from having to throw the ball too prolifically. If he continues to spread the ball around, avoid turnovers and hit his possession/speed hybrid receivers in stride, the Jets will be just fine with him at the helm. They’ll certainly be better than many people expected.