By Jeff Capellini
Ryan Fitzpatrick is what he is — nothing more, nothing less.
Yet there are people out there who are critiquing him like he’s a franchise quarterback.
You have to stop.
The reality is Fitzpatrick has never been a star. He wasn’t one when he was selected in the seventh round of the 2005 draft out of Harvard and certainly hasn’t been one at any point over the last 10 years.
There’s no sugarcoating how poorly Fitzpatrick played in the Jets’ 24-17 loss to the visiting Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, but he remains a capable guy who can do an adequate job as long as the team he’s playing for has all of its ducks in a row.
What you saw Sunday was a byproduct of what has kept the Jets from being an elite franchise for the better part of the last 45 years. So you shouldn’t have been surprised. I know I wasn’t. The difference between the Jets and teams that consistently challenge for championships is the most important position on the field. It’s been like that more or less forever.
But that’s more of a historical perspective. The current Jets are constructed as a power running team that is supposed to use the pass to keep the offense balanced and opponents honest — not the other way around. That is how the vast majority of teams operate these days in the air-it-out, high-scoring NFL.
Did you see the Jets’ running game on Sunday? If you did you were the only one.
On top of that, the club’s vaunted defense and thought-to-be-improved special teams went AWOL in the first half, allowing an Eagles team that was ripe for destruction to regroup and send the Jets to their first loss of the season.
“We hadn’t given up 24 points in the first two weeks total, and we turn around and give up 24 points in one game,” cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. “It’s just something that we’ve got to take a little more pride in, make sure that we go out and uplift everybody.”
Fitzpatrick and his teammates were never in a position to dictate the tempo of the game, something they did effectively in their first two contests. The Jets punted six times and fumbled on their first seven possessions. They then asked a guy who’s not really capable of engineering big comebacks to overcome a 24-point hole.
Fitzpatrick should be graded on some kind of curve, because he’s already hitting his head on his ceiling. The odds that he’ll show you something you’ve never seen before are long. The Jets knew what they were getting when they traded for him.
And though he is serviceable and can manage games well, to require him to throw the ball 58 times is just asking for trouble. From where I’m sitting, the three interceptions he tossed on Sunday sounded about right.
The injuries to running back Chris Ivory (quad) and wide receiver Eric Decker (knee) did Fitzpatrick absolutely no favors.
The fact that the bruising Ivory was active but never saw the field was a big tease. Bilal Powell, God bless his soul, is a fine football player, an overachiever who fights for every yard. But he’s simply not a No. 1 running back in the NFL.
Powell had all of 31 yards on 10 carries. Zac Stacy, who once was a starter in this league, carried the ball just twice. The Jets as a whole ran only 16 times for 49 yards, a far cry from the smash-mouth operation they were in the season’s first two weeks, when they amassed a combined 255 yards on 63 carries.
“We recognize there were some errors made throughout the game that stunted our drives,” left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson said. “When you have penalties, when you don’t execute, all that leads to an unfavorable result.”
The Jets will have a hard time winning games if they don’t have success on the ground. They won’t win any if both the run game and the defense take the day off. There’s not a quarterback on this roster good enough to do it by himself.
The Decker injury was also problematic because it left the Jets with Brandon Marshall as Fitzpatrick’s only reliable target. Jeremy Kerley played in place of the injured Chris Owusu and caught six passes, including a touchdown, but racked up only 33 yards. And it’s way too early to formulate an opinion — either positive or negative — on youngsters Devin Smith and Quincy Enunwa, though you have to figure with time both will get better.
Decker had been Fitzpatrick’s safety valve and was coming off a first half in Week 2 against the Colts in Indianapolis in which he dominated, catching eight passes. But a sprained knee ended his night early in the third quarter.
Fitzpatrick had no such security blanket against the Eagles, and it showed. The 11-year veteran underthrew receivers deep and forced balls into coverage short all afternoon, not to mention the fact that the Jets got nothing from their tight ends, a trend that likely isn’t going to get better any time soon. The fact that Fitzpatrick still managed to complete 60 percent of his throws for 283 yards and a pair of TDs could be viewed as a positive, but averaging only 8 yards per completion was more indicative of the struggle that it was.
That has to change, but it will only change if the Jets run the ball like designed, play defense for 60 minutes instead of 35 or 40 and keep their best receivers on the field. It’s that simple.
As for Geno Smith and the possibility that he may eventually take back what was once his, I think the Jets’ coaching staff is smart enough to realize that Fitzpatrick was only partly to blame for Sunday’s loss. For Smith to get another shot to start, Fitzpatrick is either going to have to get hurt or perform a lot worse than he did in Week 3.
But if the Jets do what they are constructed to do, Fitzpatrick should remain the starter for some time, because his game is about efficiency, not gunslinging. And a good running game and punishing defense allow for a quarterback to pick his spots rather than feel compelled to make something happen on every play.
All that said, even with the many problems that were evident on Sunday the Jets are still in pretty good shape. They travel to London this week for a meeting with the struggling Miami Dolphins and then have their bye before returning to MetLife Stadium to face the less-than-impressive Washington Redskins on Oct. 18.
There’s no reason why the Jets shouldn’t be 4-1 when they face the New England Patriots in Foxboro in Week 7.
This team is a lot better than it showed on Sunday, but needs to execute in all facets to be consistently good. The Jets will remain a sum of their parts, not a one-man show.
Fitz just isn’t built that way.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet