After handing former head coach Rex Ryan and his Buffalo Bills a satisfying 37-31 loss in Week 2, the New York Jets were back in the thick of the early playoff discussion, and an off-season marked by lofty expectations once again seemed somewhat reasonable.
A week later, New York’s 24-3 collapse in Kansas City against the Chiefs brought the Jets back down to earth. Somehow, starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick managed to throw an interception on five straight possessions during a six-pick performance that actually forced fans to search the sidelines for backup Geno Smith. And following Gang Green’s confidence killing loss, head coach Todd Bowles did his best to put a positive spin on a seriously depressing situation.
”He [Fitzpatrick] can’t play any worse, and we can’t coach it any worse,” said Bowles via the New York Post. ”There’s nowhere to go but up.”
Technically, Sunday’s 27-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks wasn’t as bad as last week’s disaster, so in a sense, Bowles was right. But for the second straight week, the quarterback that Gang Green couldn’t live without during the off-season blew his team’s shot at victory with an interception-heavy effort that’s left the Jets at the bottom of the early playoff pile.
Although the Seahawks aren’t the Marshawn Lynch-led Super Bowl favorite that they once were, head coach Pete Carroll’s crew remains the undisputed owners of one of the league’s stingiest secondaries, forcing Fitzpatrick to finish Sunday’s contest with a 41.7 quarterback rating, a passer rating of 53.0, and just one touchdown to go with his three interceptions.
Since racking-up 374 yards, one touchdown, and a 116.5 passer rating on the way to earning ”AFC Offensive Player Of The Week” honors in New York’s Week 2 win over the Bills, Fitzpatrick has combined to throw just one touchdown and a nauseating nine interceptions while leading an offense that’s been outscored 51-20 in consecutive losses to Kansas City and Seattle.
As the informed folks at ESPN have conveniently pointed out, Fitzpatrick’s problems have often come at the worst possible time. Over his last five games, the veteran quarterback has thrown 11 fourth-quarter interceptions without tossing a single touchdown, and the 16 picks he’s thrown in the final frame since joining the Jets at the beginning of last season lead the NFL.
In his first year in Green and White, much of Fitzpatrick’s success was due to the seemingly-instant chemistry he created with wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. More specifically, the 12-year veteran threw 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 65 percent of his passes to Marshall and leading his new team to a 10-6 finish.
However, entering Week 4, Fitzpatrick had connected on only 42.1 percent of his passes to Marshall for one touchdown and four interceptions. Gang Green’s top-target did haul-in four receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s loss to Seattle. But Fitzpatrick has come to rely far too heavily on Marshall, and it’s painfully obvious that New York’s struggling signal-caller has begun his inevitable decline almost every time he attempts to throw beyond 10 yards.
Openly against a quarterback change, Marshall made sure that the media knew exactly where he stands on Fitzpatrick’s status as the team’s starter under center immediately following Sunday’s loss.
”I am, going down in a boat with Ryan Fitzpatrick,” said Marshall via the New York Post. ”OK? You got it? So can you not ask me any more questions about that?”
The partially-torn rotator cuff that kept Decker out of Sunday’s loss only adds to this team’s growing list of concerns, and despite registering more than 100 total yards in each of his first two games as a Jet, running back Matt Forte was essentially invisible in losses to the Chiefs and Seahawks.
With six of their first nine games on the road, Bowles and the Jets knew that getting off to a solid start would be crucial to their playoff hopes long before Fitzpatrick’s meltdown. But that ship has already sailed, and beginning with consecutive contests at the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers, the 1-3 Jets will now play four of their next five games on the road.
Initially, the Jets were questioned, and even criticized for keeping four quarterbacks on their roster. In two full seasons and a pair of training camps, Smith has proven that he’s just not good enough to be this team’s starting quarterback, and neither Bryce Petty nor Christian Hackenberg are anywhere near ready to take the reigns. In other words, New York has been hoping that one of the three backups will develop into an NFL-caliber quarterback before Fitzpatrick stops producing.
Thanks to a recently-suspect secondary, next to no run-game, and a flurry of costly mental mistakes, Fitzpatrick isn’t this team’s only problem. But he is the most visible, and until the Jets find a solution or he plays his way out of his problems, he’ll be held responsible for their performance by the same fans who couldn’t imagine anyone else under center less than two months ago.