EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — In a seemingly cathartic display of emotion on Sunday, Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick spoke about a sinking feeling that owner Woody Johnson, general manager Mike Maccagnan and the rest of the Jets coaching staff don’t believe in him as a quarterback — a statement he underlined by saying that he believed he should start every game under center.
“The biggest thing in this game — to last — is to have belief in yourself,” Fitzpatrick, who entered the game in relief after being benched the week before in favor of Geno Smith, said. “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 kind of something I’ve dealt with before and something I’m dealing with now.”
He added: “I think it’s not easy but my teammates believing in me is a big thing. I think their opinion of me is kind of what drives me and what matters so I know I still have that belief in the huddle and that is what matters to me. You know, it’s not the easiest thing — I’m human — it’s not the easiest thing in the world to deal with. But it’s something I’ve dealt with and again, I’m just relying on my support system and believe in myself.”
Fitzpatrick entered the game in the second quarter of a 24-16 win over the Ravens when Smith injured his knee. Despite an attempt to come back on the field, the training staff held Smith out for the remainder of the game. Coach Todd Bowles said it was “too early to tell” what his quarterback depth chart would look like a week from now if Smith is healthy. Smith said “we’ll see,” and noted that the coaching staff needs to decide.
Fitzpatrick’s candidness is unusual but welcome. In a league where players of a certain status aren’t expected to share their true feelings about their self-confidence or the decision making of a coaching staff, the lifetime journeyman talked about a stark difference between the opinion of the Jets‘ locker room and that of Bowles and Maccagnan.
“It was a strange couple of days coming in — a newfound role having to take a step back, no longer being in that role of a starting quarterback slash leader slash in the huddle all the time at practice. It’s an awkward situation — a situation I don’t like being in.
“You try and get over it. It took me a couple days. I told Geno, I told a couple of guys, I’m gonna need a few days on this one just to let it sink in. Going back to being human and not just being a robot. There’s strong emotion there for me.”
As he went on, Fitzpatrick made several more comments about a lack of belief, specifically how hard it is to see the people who don’t believe in him every day.
Before he was benched, Fitzpatrick had a completion percentage of 57, with 1,441 passing yards, five touchdowns and a league-leading 11 interceptions. His average quarterback rating was 63.4.
As the story gets digested by a ravenous Jets fan base already unsure of the quarterback after a summer-long holdout, those numbers will inevitably be wagged in his face. Barring a monumental turnaround, there is almost no chance he will be the team’s starting quarterback a year from now — so why waste any more time?
The problem is obvious. Fitzpatrick seems to be the preferred option inside the locker room, which is something he hinted at several times on Sunday afternoon. A quick, unscientific observation of the offense running with Smith and running with Fitzpatrick seems to suggest he’s right.
But where do the Jets go from here? What do they do now when both options are either not healthy or not playing inspired football?
From the team’s perspective, perhaps it’s time to focus on the two quarterbacks at the bottom of your depth chart that have the most invested in them right now. As NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport noted, Bryce Petty drew more interest from the Vikings than Smith when Teddy Bridgewater went down with a season-ending knee injury. Petty returned to practice a week ago and could theoretically be ready to see game action sooner rather than later. Christian Hackenberg, despite being in a year-long mechanical reboot, could probably use a few more reps. None of this is Fitzpatrick’s problem.
And that is most important to remember following a game that was otherwise forgettable. Regardless of how anyone feels about Fitzpatrick, he was honest and fearless following a situation that he deemed personally redemptive (the Jets were trailing by six points when Fitzpatrick entered the game in the second quarter). He’ll be ripped apart for professing confidence in himself, but maybe it earned him the second chance he was looking for.
“I probably play better as an underdog and pissed off,” he said. “So going forward yeah, I’ll be pissed off.”