By Jason Keidel
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Forget all the talk about the Jets being in the thick of playoff talk. Forget the Jets’ two-game blip of a winning streak. Forget the idea that they had finally solved their QB quagmire, even for a a few months.
Only the most jaded Jets fan finds sunshine in this dim season, which now includes a 27-23 loss at Miami.
The faerie dust has officially blown off the 2015 season, during which Gang Green went 10-6 and left us with the lingering hope that there would be residual magic carrying into this autumn.
And while the Jets (3-6) technically suffered this lost game in their lost season by dint of a kick return from Dolphins rookie Kenyan Drake with a little over five minutes left — right after the Jets took the lead, of course — their quarterback play has set the game back to the single wing.
Unlike the final game of last season, when a fatal pick in the end zone was equal parts poor throw and poor route run by Eric Decker, Ryan Fitzpatrick (17-of-28, one touchdown, two interceptions Sunday) is tossing head-scratching picks all over the gridiron. He threw one to a 6-foot-6, 335-pound lineman, and he threw a another high-arcing, fluttering ball into the back of the end zone. Miami could easily have called a fair catch while waiting for it to land in Bobby McCain’s lap.
Jay Ajayi (111 yards rushing, TD) got his, but he wasn’t the reason Miami won, or why the Jets lost. By his recent, surreal standards, Ajayi finished well under the 200-yard bar he set in October.
After the game, all-world wideout Brandon Marshall waxed loyally over Fitzpatrick — or “Fitzie” as Marshall affectionately calls him — saying his feelings won’t ever change toward his quarterback. It was a more muted version of Terrell Owens’s tearful “He’s my quarterback” monologue.
It’s a noble sentiment, a tender moment in a season that has very few of them. Marshall was once considered the quintessential, modern wide receiver, equal parts dominant and diva. Marshall’s old nickname was “Blackjack,” because he once caught 21 passes in a single game. It could also have doubled as a metaphor, with teams taking a big risk employing the mercurial wide receiver.
Now Marshall has nestled nicely into the role of leader, an elder statesman who is far more likely to pat a player on the backside than stab him in the back, an activist for mental health awareness who spends his down time preparing for his side hustle as an analyst on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL.” And he’s darn good at his Tuesday gig.
But no amount of sugar-coating can cloak the fact that Fitzpatrick — who missed his wide-open pal Marshall in the end zone, leading to yet another blown red-zone opportunity — is a fraction of the player he was last year. In 2015, we nearly carried No. 14 off the field on our shoulders, the savior of a season that seemed lost when Geno Smith got his jaw shattered by IK Enemkpali.
Now we can add Fitzpatrick to the lists of busts and disappointments, the endless montage of talented or tormented football players who flashed just enough ability to get the natives excited yet possessed some flaw that made them subtly unsuitable for life in the Big Apple.
Teams will suffer injuries, arrests, coaching changes and surprising lack of production. But no NFL club can survive a complete meltdown at quarterback. Even Aaron Rodgers, perhaps the most talented quarterback of this generation, has been questioned when he’s not his normal, sublime self.
And, to paraphrase the election-cycle quips of the past, Ryan Fitzpatrick is no Aaron Rodgers. Heck, even if the Jets had the Packers’ QB, they’d find a way to mess it up.
Fitzpatrick is finally playing like he has for most of his career, and the Jets are playing like they have for most of the last 50 years. And so it will surprise none of us when they finish well short of the playoffs.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel