It finally happened Monday night: In a 28-3 loss to the Cardinals, Ryan Fitzpatrick played so poorly that the Jets put Geno Smith onto the field. But immediately after the game, New York Coach Todd Bowles tried to douse any quarterback controversy by insisting that Fitzpatrick would remain the starter.
Leaving aside the question of whether Fitz vs. Smith actually rises to the level of “quarterback controversy,” the incumbent had certainly done enough to play his way to the sideline. However, Bowles depicted the fourth-quarter substitution as not so much a benching than a chance to get Smith some snaps in a game that had gotten away.
Bowles even likened Smith to a “relief pitcher.” The coach defended Fitzpatrick, saying, “It definitely wasn’t Fitz’s fault. He barely had any time to throw.”
That may be, but whenever Fitzpatrick has thrown the ball this season, the results have rarely worked out well for the Jets (1-5). The 33-year-old quarterback entered Monday’s game completing 57.8 percent of his passes for just five touchdowns, an NFL-leading 10 interceptions and a 64.7 rating.
Things didn’t go any better in Arizona. Fitzpatrick threw yet another interception, an end-zone pick late in the third quarter when his team still had a chance at 21-3. When the Jets got the ball back in the fourth quarter, following the Cardinals’ final score, Smith was under center, and not a moment too soon for his taste.
Before the game, Smith had told ESPN’s Lisa Salters that he was “getting antsy.” Slated to be the Jets’ starter last season before infamously getting his jaw broken by then-teammate I.K. Enemkpali, Smith could only watch as Fitzpatrick, then recently acquired by the team, took over as the starter and led the Jets to a 10-6 record while throwing a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes.
However, Fitzpatrick offered a preview of things to come in the season finale, when, with a playoff berth at stake, not to mention a win over former coach Rex Ryan, the quarterback threw three fourth-quarter interceptions to seal a 22-17, season-ending loss to the Bills. This season, the late, back-breaking pick has become something of a Fitzpatrick specialty, as he has thrown 10 interceptions in the second half of games — and zero touchdowns.
Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's last 4 games: 84-154 (54.5%), 878 yards, 2 TD, 10 INTs, 48.6 passer rating.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) October 18, 2016
As Fitzpatrick struggled Monday, cameras showed Smith looking very antsy, indeed, rolling his eyes in impatience. However, once he finally got into the game, he offered a glimpse of why both the Jets’ fans and several of their players clamored for the team to bring back Fitzpatrick, during an offseason contract stalemate.
Smith’s first regular-season drive since last November ended with an interception, and he was subsequently stripped of the ball on a sack, although a teammate fell on it to prevent a turnover. The plays were reminders that, in 31 career games, the 26-year-old has 42 turnovers, along with poor numbers in terms of completion percentage (57.9) and yards per attempt (6.8).
Still, even if Smith failed to impress and is set to return to the bench, his insertion into Monday’s game indicates that Fitzpatrick’s leash is getting shorter by the week. The Jets are not tied to him long-term, and if they either feel like he simply can’t help them win or that their season is effectively over and it’s time to look toward the future, they may well give Smith, or even third-stringer Bryce Petty, a few games to show what he can do.
Either way, this is increasingly looking like a lost season for Gang Green, but the bright side could be a very high draft pick next year — and a chance to take a hot young quarterback.