Now that Ryan Fitzpatrick thinks the owner, the general manager and the coach no longer believe in him, perhaps he should follow the example of the quarterback who has had far more to complain about with the Jets and faced far more misfortune, but who wisely and admirably has chosen to be the adult in the room.
Fitzpatrick offered a jaw-dropping assessment of his situation Sunday shortly after replacing the injured Geno Smith and leading the Jets to a 24-16 win over the Ravens, their first victory since Fitzpatrick’s terrific performance in Week 2 against the Bills.
“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,” he said in his postgame news conference. “That’s something I’ve had to deal with before, something I’m dealing with now.”
It was a raw moment for Fitzpatrick, who took the news of his benching hard when he was told last Tuesday that Smith would replace him. And while it was a fascinating window into an athlete’s psyche, he made remarks best kept to family and close friends, because he came off as whiny and filled with self-pity.
It also doesn’t help that Woody Johnson, Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles were the only owner, general manager and coach willing to view Fitzpatrick as a starting quarterback. And they gave him $12 million — Twelve. Million. Dollars. — for his services.
Fitzpatrick was willing to take that deal and bet on himself in hopes he could parlay that into a bigger deal in 2017, with the Jets or elsewhere. But faced with a daunting schedule to open the season, he played his way out of the job with an NFL-high 11 interceptions and a 1-5 record.
He lost the bet in spectacular fashion.
Fitzpatrick wasn’t the only culprit in that horrific start, but his play didn’t justify his expectation that Bowles would blindly stick with him now that the schedule has softened. Bowles had to do something to spark his listless team, and turning to Smith was a perfectly sensible move. Unfortunately for Smith, his stint lasted only into the second quarter, when he suffered a season-ending ACL tear.
Fitzpatrick did a creditable job Sunday — one touchdown pass, no interceptions — but he did it against an injury-ravaged Ravens team that was without its top two pass rushers and now has lost four straight games. And while Fitzpatrick bemoaned his fate after the game, Smith expressed hope that he could return, but mostly celebrated the fact that his team had won and stopped its own four-game skid.
“That’s how stuff works,” said Smith, who was 4-for-8 for 95 yards and a touchdown pass. “That’s how life works. I’m not thinking about that [knee injury] right now. I’m just happy that we won. I’ll be fine, but we’ll see how it goes.”
That’s just the latest example of Smith declining to express the “woe is me” attitude that Fitzpatrick indulged in Sunday.
He never once complained publicly when Fitzpatrick showed up on the eve of training camp and instantly took over for Smith, who had spent the entire offseason as the starter while Fitzpatrick and the Jets couldn’t reach an agreement.
He never once demanded to be traded, even after the Jets drafted Bryce Petty in the fourth round in 2015 and Christian Hackenberg in the second round this year.
Granted, Smith deserves his share of blame for putting himself in the position of getting punched out by linebacker IK Enemkpali in August 2015, when Smith’s career suddenly went off the rails. Even though Enemkpali sucker-punched him, it should never have come to that, and Smith bears responsibility for it.
But he didn’t publicly complain about the owner, the general manager and the coach losing faith in him, even though that is exactly what happened during the previous 14 months. Now his career with the Jets undoubtedly is over, because they won’t renew his contract when it expires after the season.
And while Fitzpatrick will resume his duties as the starter, it likely will last only if he keeps winning. With Petty back at practice after recovering from an offseason shoulder injury, and with the former Baylor star showing marked improvement during the offseason and camp, Bowles needs to find out whether he can be part of the solution.
Bowles insists he isn’t offended by Fitzpatrick’s complaining. “If [ticked] off is going to stop the turnovers,’’ he said, “I’m more than happy to have him [ticked].”
Fitzpatrick still can make a case for being a starting quarterback, but it likely won’t be with the Jets. And considering that the owner, GM and coach were the only ones in the NFL who viewed him as a starter this year, it’s virtually inconceivable that another team will give him a starting job.
In the meantime, he can do himself a favor by dispensing with the self-pity.