When Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa made his NFL debut during the final drive of Sunday’s 24-0 annihilation of the New York Jets, no one appeared happier than the man he will one day replace, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The 37-year-old led the sparse home crowd in an ovation with a grin so large it almost outdid his magnificent beard.
And why not? Fitzpatrick knows this is his team only temporarily. He accepts and embraces it. But in the meantime, he’s balling. Fitzpatrick is seventh in the league in QBR and should remain in that territory after tossing three touchdowns against the Jets. (He also threw two interceptions, one of which was the 0-6 Jets’ few highlights of the season.) His 70% completion rate is the highest of his career and he’s helming a scrappy team coming off back-to-back blowout wins.
The Dolphins are a pleasure to watch these days with so much of the joy rooted in Fitzpatrick. After Miami topped Jacksonville in Week 3’s bonanza of facial hair quarterbacks, Fitzpatrick was elated. “I feel like the luckiest guy in the world sometimes, getting to go outside and play football with my friends,” he told reporters.
Fitzpatrick has a refreshing happy-to-be-here aspect to his career but he’s also smart, tough and valuable enough to be a perfect stop gap for any franchise. Just ask the Rams, Bengals, Bill, Titans, Texans, Jets, Bucs and now Dolphins. Fitzpatrick will never be the tallest or fastest in a quarterback room, but no one will top his determination.
Fitzpatrick’s journey was detailed by Yahoo this this summer, a journey that involved battling to win starting quarterback job at Highland High in Gilbert, Arizona, then moving up the depth chart at Harvard, before constantly having to reprove his worth to a litany of NFL franchises. Some quarterbacks are branded as starters, some as backups. Fitzpatrick is in his own unique category where he so commonly emerges as the starter that you lose track of whether or not it was by design.
Fitzpatrick is a wonderment not because of his stronger-than-you-think arm, his escapability, or even his never-ending beard. It’s his self-awareness. It’s his ability to understand that he’s a placeholder yet take the field like he owns the team. It’s his ability to inspire his teammates.
“Fitz is just a wholesome person. The way he is out on the field is the same way he is off the field,” Tagovailoa told ESPN this week. “I don’t think there’s really a distinct change in who he is. I mean, what you see out there is really who Fitz is. He’s a coach. He’s a mentor on and off the field. But he’s also a very, very family-oriented person. Very loving. Very caring for guys. And he’s funny, too. He’s really funny.”
It’s doubtful that Aaron Rodgers will be jumping for joy when Jordan Love takes the field nor would most quarterbacks when they can see their present become their past in the flesh. But Fitzpatrick is a different breed. His joy for Tagovailoa’s entrance illuminated his purpose as both a bridge and a mentor. Like Patrick Mahomes with Alex Smith, Tagovailoa entered the NFL in an idyllic situation. In Fitzpatrick, he received a mentor that not only leads by example but who genuinely wants the kid to succeed. It’s one thing to observe how much time a teammate puts into film study, it’s another when that teammate also cares about you as a human and wants to guide you through the entire thorny landscape that is the NFL. That’s Fitz.
Every once in a while, it feels like Fitzpatrick is destined to be the guy under center. But the baton will be handed off, and possibly soon. Until then, Fitzpatrick will keep partaking in a quarterback arc that is charmed and uniquely his.
Stat of the week
The Patriots are under .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2002. For most teams a 2-3 record wouldn’t be cause for panic. It might even be cause for celebration if you reside in the NFC East. But this season has been a major pivot for the Patriots who had a reserved seat in the playoffs for the last two decades. The Pats were sloppy on both sides of the ball in a 18-12 home loss to the Broncos. Cam Newton, now recovered from Covid-19, was sacked four times and had no offensive weaponry or protection. There is the obvious excuse of little to no practice time given the facility’s Covid-19 closure over much of the past two weeks. But unlike the Titans, who overcame the same hurdles and crushed the Bills last Thursday, the Pats don’t appear to be a team with much depth or overwhelming talent at this point.
MVP of the week
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) October 18, 2020
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans. All hail King Henry who put on a clinic in Tennessee’s scintillating 42-36 overtime win against the Texans. When JJ Watt strip-sacked Ryan Tannehill, a turnover that resulted in a touchdown and Houston taking the lead, it seemed like a major momentum shift. But Henry answered with a jaw-dropping-how-does-a-man-that-big-have-those-jets 94 yard touchdown. Henry was also instrumental in overtime, barreling upfield on a 53-yard screen and then scoring the game-winner on a direct snap. Henry ended with 212 rushing yards and became the first player in NFL history with 200-yard games in three consecutive seasons. Could he be the most dangerous rusher since Adrian Peterson in his prime?
Video of the week
Aaron Rodgers took a hard hit in the end zone, then he immediately got up and hit them with a "double pump." Absolute savage 😂 pic.twitter.com/fjDOyKSnrz
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 18, 2020
Aaron Jones ran in a one-yard touchdown in the first quarter for Green Bay but it was the other Aaron who really felt the moment. Yes, Aaron Rodgers performed the Hingle McCringleberry excessive celebration sketch, a fictional football player made famous from Key and Peele.
Quote of the week
“We’re the best defense in this league” – Bears inside linebacker Danny Trevathan.
It’s hard to argue with Trevathan after the Bears’ defense turned in another dominating, opportunistic defensive performance, topping Carolina 23-16. They were flat out stifling as the game progressed, especially the run stuffers. As Kevin Fishbain of the Athletic points out the Bears allowed Panthers rusher Mike Davis to collect 40 yards on eight carries. But after that they held him to 12 yards on 10 carries. The Bears now sit at a very healthy 5-1 and the defense saving the offense seems to be a theme for Chicago this season – and almost all of their seasons.
Elsewhere around the league
-- The arrival of Tom Brady put a lot of focus on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense but their defense is one of the best in the league. They made Rodgers look ordinary, while they harassed him all afternoon as the Bucs inflicted the Green Bay Packers’ first loss of the season. Indeed, the Bucs defense was so dominant that Rodgers was pulled in the fourth-quarter to protect him from further punishment.
-- After injuries to the Jags’ first four kickers this season, they reached deep into the pile and pulled out … someone who had never attempted a field goal at any level. Jon Brown was a soccer player at Louisville before transferring to Kentucky to play football where he became a kickoff specialist. But even without the experience, Brown drilled his first-ever attempt like a seasoned vet, though he did miss a 32-yarder later in Jacksonville’s 34-16 loss to the Lions.
-- Steelers-Browns didn’t quite live up to its Game of the Week billing. Pittsburgh clobbered Cleveland 38-7, again showcasing their elite wideout scouting with James Washington joining Chase Claypool as a force. The Steelers defense, aided by a key Minkah Fitzpatrick interception, looked far more stout than last week. Steelers-Ravens in Week 8 should be on everyone’s calendars.
-- Interim Texans head coach Romeo Crennel had the controversial coaching move of the week. The Texans scored with 1:50 left and took a seven-point lead. Instead of kicking it to put Houston up eight, Crennel rolled the dice and tried to go for a win with a two-point conversion.
-- The NFL woke to great news in Sunday, when zero Covid-19 tests came back positive.
-- Presumptive No1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence performed his latest masterpiece Saturday, his ridiculous arm and decision making guiding Clemson to an historic 73-7 rout of Georgia Tech. Already up 52-7 at the half, Lawrence left the game after one second-half series with five touchdowns, 405 yards, and all quarterback-deficient NFL teams salivating.
-- Vikings fans, how are you feeling about Kirk Cousins’ $66m guaranteed contract extension? Yikes. He threw three touchdowns in Minnesota’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons … and also three interceptions. “The reality is if the pace I’m on in terms of the interceptions, if that were to continue, I won’t finish the season,” Cousins said. He’s right.