FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Ryan Fitzpatrick is off to as good a start as you could want for the Jets, running the offense with efficiency, showing a lively arm and setting up his receivers almost perfectly in the 31-10 season-opening win over the Browns.
Surprised? Don't be.
Fitzpatrick has a history of getting off to fast starts. Like in 2011 in Buffalo, when he led the Bills to a 5-2 getaway with 14 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He was rewarded midway through that season with a whopping $59-million contract extension.
After beating out Ryan Mallett for the starter's job in Houston last year, Fitzpatrick had the Texans off to a 3-1 start.
But those hot starts fizzled, with Fitzpatrick's play dropping off so precipitously in Buffalo that he lost the starting job by the end of 2012. When his play tailed off last year, he was replaced by Mallett after nine games.
So as good as Fitzpatrick was in his Jets debut, we strongly advise taking a wait-and-see approach before assuming that his unexpected ascension to the starting job after the jaw-breaking shot Geno Smith took in training camp will lead to a more permanent position as the No. 1 guy.
Fitzpatrick sees no common thread in his experiences in Buffalo and Houston, although you could argue that once defensive coordinators got enough tape on him, it was easier to pick on his deficiencies later in each season.
"For me, I think it's just continuing to get better every week and knowing that you're only as good as your next game," Fitzpatrick said on Thursday as the Jets practiced for Monday night's game in Indianapolis. "We had a great start [on Sunday], but we can do a lot of things better on offense. If we come out and lay an egg this week, that's all forgotten quickly."
It will, especially in a league in which seemingly definitive judgments about teams and players can go up in smoke from one week to the next. But it was hard not to be impressed by Fitzpatrick in the opener, especially after seeing him struggle early in training camp. Fitzpatrick simply didn't show the command of the offense or the arm strength to make you think the Jets had much of a chance if he was forced to play.
But there's a reason the 32-year-old Fitzpatrick continues to be employed. It's his resourcefulness that allows him to adapt to his surroundings. He'll never be mistaken for Andrew Luck, whom he'll face on Monday night. But put a solid cast of players around him and give him time to throw, and you'll get the kind of performance he put on against a solid Browns defense.
"Game days, it's a totally different speed," wide receiver Brandon Marshall said of Fitzpatrick's deceptively good arm strength. "[The ball] gets on you quick. I don't know where people get that from, where they say he doesn't have a strong arm. He actually does. He reminds me of Josh McCown . People said the same thing about McCown, but when we played with him, we were shocked."
Receiver Eric Decker also scoffs at the knock against Fitzpatrick's arm strength.
"I got these questions with Peyton Manning all the time," Decker said. "[Fitzpatrick] can make every throw. Whether he throws 70 yards on a line or not doesn't matter. From what I've seen the last six months being with Fitzpatrick, he can make every throw. So it's not a surprise to me. I've gotten to witness it every day in practice. He's been great for us."Now the question is how much longer Fitzpatrick combines his arm strength with accuracy. Coach Todd Bowles made it clear the day Smith was decked by linebacker IK Enemkpali that Fitzpatrick will keep the job if the Jets are doing well, even when Smith is ready to play again. But if Fitzpatrick's history of leveling off after impressive starts comes into play, then Bowles might have a decision to make. So Jets fans rejoicing in Fitzpatrick taking over as the starter might have to deal with a different reality down the road.
Fitzpatrick hopes that won't be the case, even if he is aware of his past.
"I've had some success. I've had some struggles," he said. "The way I look at it is what do I need to do to get myself better."
The answer may determine how far the Jets go and whether Smith gets a chance to take back his job. The answer rests with Fitzpatrick.