Armando Salguero

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s reputation is good followed by bad — and he has shown it this week | Opinion

Dolphins coach Flores is not fond of egos, ‘it’s a team sport’

Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores is not fond of egos, "it's a team sport", July 31, 2019.
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Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores is not fond of egos, "it's a team sport", July 31, 2019.

The course of the last week’s Miami Dolphins practices should be familiar to Ryan Fitzpatrick. The week started out upbeat, with good news as a reward for solid work. And that was followed by a poor practice Wednesday and another unremarkable outing Thursday and a bad showing in a modified scrimmage Saturday.

Productive and sometimes even inspiring followed by disappointing and often inefficient.

That has been the story of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Simply inconsistent.

And no one should be surprised because this was bound to happen and is likely to repeat later this season, maybe multiple times. Because the Dolphins’ leader in the quarterback competition has shown over his 14-year career that he’s up, and down, and up again, and down again, like a skyrise elevator.

The Fitzmagic carpet ride is never smooth. It’s never the same, launch after launch. It’s instead unpredictable and capable of great climbs or frightening drops.

That’s the reputation Fitzpatrick brought to the Dolphins when he signed a two-year, $11 million contract on March 18. And for the first time since, we have seen a manifestation of that reputation the last few days.

Consider:

After coaches met Monday to evaluate the entire roster, coach Brian Flores for the first time said Fitzpatrick is the leader in the starting quarterback competition with Josh Rosen. The coach was only admitting what everyone had seen in open OTA practices, minicamp and the first week of training camp, but it was significant because it meant the starting job is basically Fitzpatrick’s to lose.

He leads. Now all he has to do is maintain that edge. Not screw up. And finish. He has to be who he had been to that point, assuming Rosen didn’t unexpectedly start playing like a star.

Fitzpatrick spoke of his status as the QB derby leader with appropriate and impressive wisdom:

“I have been through a lot in my career to know that it all depends on what you do every single day,” he said. “You can’t harp on what happened in the past or what you did the last game. Nothing is given in this game. For me, I never take any of these opportunities for granted.”

That seemed insightful, but maybe that’s just Fitzpatrick recognizing he has often followed grand success with failure. And that’s kind of what he has done so far this week.

Wednesday was one of, if not the worst, outings Fitzpatrick has had in an open practice since he joined the team. He threw multiple interceptions for the first time. He bobbled a snap. He forced some throws. It was jarring.

Only one day, right? Everyone has a bad one every once in a while.

But then Fitzpatrick stacked another poor practice atop that Thursday. His accuracy was off. He forced passes into too-tight windows. Oddly, the interception he threw was one of his best passes because it hit receiver Preston Williams in the hands and bounded into the grasp of a defender.

So not his fault. But not a good result, either.

Saturday’s practice was worse, still. Fitzpatrick badly underthrew one deep pass that was intercepted by Xavien Howard. Later he threw another pick to Howard and also forced a deep pass to double coverage that fell incomplete but easily could have been picked as well.

“Not good enough,” Fitzpatrick said assessing his own play. “We had a really good first drive ... and I wish we would have been a little more consistent. As an offense, that always starts with the quarterback. I’ve got to continue to get better and continue playing well.

“We’ll go as I go so I have to do a better job.”

So Fitzpatrick gets a big atta-boy and responds by delivering his worst week since joining the team.

And why would this happen? Because that has been Fitzpatrick’s history.

Let’s go back to 2011. It is the year Chan Gailey handed the keys to the Buffalo Bills offense to Fitzpatrick, making him a full-time NFL starter for the first time in his career.

The Bills have a 4-2 record and the NFL’s third-highest scoring offense on Oct. 28. Fitzpatrick is having a career season with 14 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. And on that day he is rewarded with a six-year contract worth a reported $59 million with $24 million in guarantees.

Well-deserved.

Except Fitzpatrick responds to the new deal by throwing four touchdowns and seven interceptions the next four games, including a two-interception outing in which he completes only 51.3 percent of his passes in a 35-8 blowout loss to the Dolphins.

Fitzpatrick will finish the year with 24 TDs and 23 interceptions, which obviously is not what anyone in Buffalo expected. The Bills lose eight of their final 10 games and finish last in the AFC East.

I saw Gailey, who I respected during his time as the Dolphins offensive coordinator, the following offseason at the NFL annual meeting. I tried to encourage him about his just-completed season in Buffalo.

“It was going good and then Fitzpatrick lost his head,” the coach muttered.

Good followed by bad.

Fitzpatrick improved in 2012 but the Bills offense actually ranked lower than the previous year, the win total was no better, and Gailey was fired. After the season, Fitzpatrick was released.

The journeyman then traveled to Tennessee and Houston before landing with the New York Jets in 2015. And the Jets had no designs of Fitzpatrick being their starter until presumed starter Geno Smith got punched out by a teammate, thrusting Fitzpatrick into the lineup.

And he was great. Reunited with Gailey, who was a fine offensive coach, Fitzpatrick nearly led the surprising Jets to the playoffs. He threw 31 touchdown passes against 15 interceptions.

Then the Jets were uncertain what to do next. They didn’t quite believe Fitzpatrick was the right guy to lead the franchise, but they couldn’t deny the previous year’s results.

So they signed him to a $12 million deal in 2016, which suggested they expected more magic on par with the previous season.

But Fitzpatrick didn’t have an on-par season in him. He threw six interceptions against Kansas City on Sept. 25. He had four games in which he completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes. He finished with 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

Good followed by bad.

Last year in Tampa Bay, Fitzpatrick started off hot in place of Jameis Winston. He threw eight touchdown passes the first two games.

Cooking!

And then he threw seven TDs and 11 interceptions in his other five starts.

No bueno.

So where does that leave us? Look, I’m not in the prediction business. There’s only one way to be right and a million ways to be wrong. But to project what is possible for Ryan Fitzpatrick the next six months of this NFL season is not hard.

He is likely to have some moments that make you feel he’s the best quarterback to play for the Dolphins since Dan Marino retired. And he is likely to have some moments that will make you understand why the Dolphins are his eighth NFL team.

One more thing: When you see or hear he’s done really well, you can expect a healthy dose of awful is lurking somewhere around the corner.

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