By Glenn Naughton
Coming in to the 2015 season, NFL experts were all over the map in predicting just how the year would unfold for the New York Jets. Some, such as Rich Gannon of Sirius XM NFL Radio, pegged the team for a total of just four wins. Meanwhile, analyst Brian Baldinger warned doubters that the Jets could surprise and contend for a playoff spot.
One thing that seemed to be universally agreed upon however, was that no matter how many wins the Jets managed, those wins would come as a result of an elite defense and a dominant running game. Ryan Fitzpatrick, they said, would just have to manage the game.
In each of those outings, Fitzpatrick was asked to drop back more than 35 times (37, 50 and 36 respectively, to be exact), without the benefit of that supposedly required dominant running game, yet managed to pull out three consecutive victories.
It was last night’s win against Dallas, owners of the NFL’s fourth-ranked pass defense, allowing just 221 yards per game through the air that may have been his most impressive.
A swarming Cowboys defense dominated the Jets on the ground, holding Chris Ivory to just 37 yards on 13 carries, and had Fitzpatrick on the run all night long.
Through the first three quarters, Fitzpatrick had thrown for 167 yards, a number he would almost match in the fourth quarter alone, as he finished with 299 yards in the win, saving his best for last.
It was on the final two drives that Fitzpatrick threw the Jets offense on his back and carried them to a pair of scores for the victory.
Most impressive was his penultimate drive, moving well in the pocket and stepping up to avoid Randy Gregory who had gotten around left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson on the drive’s first play. Fitzpatrick would a strike over the middle to Brandon Marshall for fourteen yards.
On the very next play, it was more of the same as this time Fitzpatrick rolled out to his right, throwing on the move again, hitting Eric Decker along the right sideline for a gain of twelve. Two plays, two big first downs.
After yet another jailbreak along the Jets offensive line that forced Fitzpatrick to throw a quick incompletion, he came back with a perfectly throw ball, again to Marshall, for a pickup of twenty yards to the Dallas 23 yard line.
A short 1-yard completion to Quincy Enunwa was followed up with a holding call and a short pass to Chris Ivory, putting the Jets in a 3rd &
13, before Fitzpatrick steeped up, under pressure again, and made his best play of the drive, hitting Enunwa over the middle for a 25 yard gain inside the Dallas 5-yard line, easily the key play to the drive and arguably the biggest play of the game.
Fitzpatrick then capped the drive with a short touchdown pass to Eric Decker who came in motion across the formation before jogging toward the end zone where Fitz hit him for the score and a 16-13 lead, one that didn’t stand for long as Dallas kicker Dan Bailey would tie the score at 16 with a 50-yard field goal that he banged in off the inside of the right upright.
It was time for Fitzpatrick and the offense to get back to work with 2:00 remaining, so it was back to work for Fitz and the offense.
After completing passes to Marshall, Decker and Enunwa on the previous drive, this one would start with another option, Bilal Powell, who would finish the night with 7 receptions for 54 yards, but was stopped behind the line for a 1-yard loss to start the drive.
Then Enunwa once again, with Cowboys defenders collapsing the pocket, Fitzpatrick hit the second-year Nebraska product for 10 yards, a yard short of the first down that Fitzpatrick would gain himself via QB sneak on the next play. A heads up call by the veteran with 1:06 remaining in regulation.
Little-used wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins would have his number called next, on what was another contender for play of the game, a 43-yard hookup down the right sideline that barring catastrophe, put the Jets in field goal position where Keith Bullock would hit the 40-yard game winner after three clock-killing run plays gained little ground.
The win was sealed with a Marcus Williams interception on the Cowboy’s final possession, but Fitzpatrick would come away as just the second QB to throw for 299 yards or more against the league’s fourth-ranked pass defense, the other being Drew Brees who did it in week four earlier this season.
In the end, it was Fitzpatrick once again, doing something the critics said he couldn’t. By using not only his superstars, but some lesser known targets, rallying without a running game, against a stingy pass defense, late in the game. After the game, his superstar receiver, Brandon Marshall couldn’t help but gush about his QB, saying “I’m so proud of him, the way he’s leading our team on the field and off the field”.
Now, at 9-5 the Jets have the New England Patriots on tap as Fitzpatrick continues his march towards what wold be his first ever playoff appearance.
Another chance for Fitzpatrick and those who support him hope to scratch yet another item off of the list if things he wasn’t supposed to be able to do.