For Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets, the Comparison Is No Longer Geno Smith, It’s Vinny Testaverde

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It started as inconspicuous as it could.

“The offensively challenged New York Jets made their second trade in less than a week, acquiring well-traveled quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on Wednesday from the Houston Texans,” is what Rich Cimini’s blog update stated.

‘Well-traveled’ is probably a nicer phrase than “journeyman” which is probably a friendlier phrase than “average” or “boring” or “never-was”, but here he was, Ryan Fitzpatrick, traded for a nondescript, conditional 7th round pick.

He wasn’t even the most exciting trade by the Jets in those 24 hours.  An earlier trade of a 5th round pick to the Chicago Bears for the mercurial Brandon Marshall was seen as the real score of the offseason.  A wide receiver with a host of events in his past, but also 5 seasons of 100 catch totals that would immediately benefit the Jets beleaguered roster of “offensive weapons”.

Fitzpatrick, a Harvard graduate, if you haven’t heard, was being brought in to “compete” with the potentially potential-laden, but trending towards bust, West Virginia-alum Geno Smith, for the Jets’ starting QB spot.

Smith had been coming off of two NFL basement-level seasons, though he was coming off perhaps his best game as a pro – a Week 17 perfect QB rating vs. the Miami Dolphins, so there remained hope for his varied supporters.

The hope was far lesser for his bearded teammate.  Even though Fitzpatrick was coming off possibly his best season as a pro – 63.1% throwing, for 2,483 yards, 17 touchdowns and 8 interceptions – his 2014-ending broken leg and history quickly threw away any sort of excitement about him re-joining offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, whose system led to Fitzpatrick’s greatest seasons to date.

That he was being thrown away by the Texans for the likes of the (oft-injured) Brian Hoyer and (now-released) Ryan Mallett, and barely-believed to have a shot at unseating the incumbent Smith, Fitzpatrick may have been mistaken as a hype vacuum.

But on a fateful day of summer training camp, everything changed.

We’ll never know if Geno Smith would have led the Jets to a similar season, nor if Ryan Fitzpatrick would have ever seen the light of day at QB, if not for debt-seeking, cheap shot of departed linebacker I.K. Enemkpali, but it gave light to what would be one of, if not the greatest seasons by a QB in Jets history.

FItzpatrick would spend much of the season with Geno lingering in the background, but it was meaningless. The Jets would start off the season 4-1 and despite a few hiccups, it was Fitz’s job to keep.

And he rewarded the Jets for the chance they gave him.  Only failing in two games this entire season in which he finished to get multiple touchdowns, Fitzpatrick has been a settling, stable, consistent force at quarterback of which the team hasn’t seen in almost a decade.

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His numbers have been spectacular.  Entering the final week of the season, Fitzpatrick’s tally sits at 60.8% completion percentage, 3,724 yards passing (258 rushing), 29 touchdowns (+2 rush), and 12 INT.  These numbers have been aided by a ton of so-called Fitzmagic over the past 5 weeks.

Those weeks include 13 TD, 1 INT, and most-importantly, 5 wins. It has pushed Fitzpatrick into some impressive company, with even a noted New York sensationalist dirt expert glowing that Fitz be included in the MVP race.

And while that’s certainly a nice superlative being hoisted his way by a front-running media member, it’s not the most appropriate island for Fitzpatrick to stand on.

It’s going back to the start of this season and the Jets QB he was compared to, which no longer qualifies.

The one he is aiming for most accurately is Vinny Testaverde.

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Replacing the underwhelming Glenn Foley (hmm), the 30-something (hmmmm) would go on to have his best season as a pro – throwing for 29 TD (hmmmmmmm) and only 7 INT.  Aided by a controversial December win (hmmmmmmmmmm), the Jets ran off a 6-game winning streak (hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…okay that’s enough), finally ending their playoff drought.

As you can tell from the hmm’s, this is all very similar to what we’re seeing today, as the Jets get set for a final week matchup where a win will send them into the playoffs for the first time since 2010.  They’ll take on the Buffalo Bills, led by former Jets coach Rex Ryan (1998…Week 17….Patriots…Former Jets coach Pete Carroll……just saying!), and Fitzpatrick has a chance at some major history.

With a touchdown of any kind, he will move past Mark Sanchez for the most total TDs in a single-season in Jets history (32).  With a passing score, Fitzpatrick will move past Testaverde’s 29 from 1998 into sole-possession of 1st place in franchise season history.

And like Vinny Testaverde, that will allow the Jets to historically repeat that 1998 season, with a chance at playoff success, but may also allow the Jets to follow in some other repeated history from Testaverde’s years in New York.

With this season, Fitzpatrick has placed himself in a position to remain with the Jets longer-term.  An extension, likely to be of a similar 3-year variety as fellow veteran Josh McCown signed with the Cleveland Browns this year, would give the Jets a nice foundation going forward.

That foundation is important, because like with Testaverde’s run here, there is a successor in place who first needs seasoning.

In 2000, the Jets drafted Chad Pennington, who would go on to some of the best seasons in franchise history, including many completion rates and QB rating marks the league had never seen before.  But he would sit until 2002, when Testaverde finally faltered.

Vinny was a mentor for Pennington and a successful placeholder until the QB of the future was ready.  The same can be the role for Fitzpatrick.

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Aided by Marshall and fellow WR pro-bowl candidate, Eric Decker, Fitzpatrick has a chance to continue this run for another few seasons.  All while that is happening, it gives the Jets time to evaluate and grow 2015 4th round pick, Bryce Petty.

The Baylor QB was taken with the knowledge that his raw talent filled with arm-strength for miles would need time to acclimate to an NFL system.  With a veteran like Fitzpatrick to show him the way, and allow him to not be rushed into action until he is ready, Petty may be given the same chance Pennington was to be prepared by the time his number is called.

So will history repeat itself? It all starts Sunday, where step one is set into motion with a little more Fitzmagic and a Jets victory.

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