Keidel: Should The Jets Bench Fitzpatrick?

By Jason Keidel

No, that wasn’t another interception you just saw outside your window. Though those in the five boroughs and beyond are a bit shell-shocked today, suffering from a little gridiron PTSD.

Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed six interceptions in the New York Jets’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. That’s not a typo in the box score. And still, the Jets were only down 17-3 in the fourth quarter.

It speaks to how robust the Jets’ defense can be. Gang Green held the Chiefs’ normally rugged running game to 72 yards, and Alex Smith to 237 passing yards. Thus the need for Fitzpatrick to not lose the game as much, if not more, than win it.

He was far more than the dreaded game manager last year. But sometimes that’s all the Jets need. And surely the Amish Rifle was far less yesterday, tossing the ball to the Chiefs’ secondary over and over.

Social media feeds boiled with commentary largely unfit for family programing. The G-rated take was that the Jets made a mistake bringing Fitzpatrick back to the fold. There are plenty of QBs — including several on the Jets’ roster — who would have represented the team much better and for much cheaper than the $12 million Fitzpatrick will make this season.

The box score burns the eye. The Jets’ quarterback was 20-of-44, for 188 yards, with zero touchdowns and six — yes, six — interceptions. One of his six picks was a pick-six, which sealed the game. Surely Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg and Geno Smith can do the same and toss just five interceptions.

As sports fans, it’s in our nature to suffer from this kind of ADD. One game seems like a whole season. Just down the hall inside MetLife, Eli Manning, a local lifer and actual icon, is getting grief for his gaffe at the end of yesterday’s game (including a scolding from yours truly). So Fitzpatrick is surely not immune to the cauldron of NYC’s public and pundits.

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One of the oldest NFL maxims is that the most popular player in the building — though never the most talented — is the backup quarterback. In this instance, the Jets have three. Forget that Hackenberg is a rookie, and Petty may as well be. Smith already had his turn under center, including this offseason, when he had ample chances to show the Jets’ brass that he was a remade QB, during the team’s contract stare-down with Fitzpatrick that ended just before the first preseason game.

Fans are correct that Fitzpatrick’s career did not reflect last year’s career numbers, which included a club-record 31 touchdown passes. The Jets were a faulty fourth quarter in Buffalo away from the playoffs, finishing 10-6, and losing a tiebreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But Fitzpatrick fans can accurately assert that his best season came last season. And, with another year of gridiron dharma with high-end wideouts Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, plus the addition of stellar halfback Matt Forte, there was nothing to suggest the Jets’ offense would sag this season.

And they’re not. Bad kicking from the normally solid Nick Folk cost them in Week 1, when they sacked Andy Dalton seven times and were a field goal from winning that game. In Week 2, Fitzpatrick and the Jets shredded the Bills (who just smoked the Arizona Cardinals) in Buffalo.

There’s another sports maxim that often gets crunched under the weight of wretched results. The other guys get paid, too. The Chiefs are very good, and are an absolute nightmare for road teams. Shannon Sharpe, for instance, said that Arrowhead was the last place he wanted to visit during his Hall of Fame career.

Jets fans were justifiably edgy entering this season, as their first six scheduled games were as brutal as any in recent memory, with five of them coming against playoff teams from 2015. Next they host the Seahawks, then hit the road to face the Steelers and Cardinals. The 3-0 Ravens, Week 7’s opponent that was once considered a soft spot in the schedule, are looking more formidable.

No team wants to go into such an ornery slate of games benching their quarterback. Maybe Fitzpatrick isn’t quite the player he was last year. Maybe he’s not the $12 million man. We just don’t know that yet. But we do know that about his backups, which is why they’re called backups.

Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.


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