Ryan Fitzpatrick was hurting after the game Sunday, as you can imagine. It was not the homecoming he envisioned with the Jets. He had little interest in rehashing a career year, trivial after the season ended so terribly in a familiar stadium in which he had grown accustomed to losing.
Fitzpatrick fielded every question with his trademark class and professionalism. Let’s be honest, he had some practice explaining away defeat during his four years in Buffalo. He threw his share of interceptions and lost some big games with the Bills, but none was quite as devastating as the one Sunday.
“It’s tough,” Fitzpatrick said. “All you can ask for in this game is just an opportunity. As poorly as we played in the first quarter, as slow as we were going there, we picked it up and had an opportunity at the end to win the game. We weren’t able to pull it off. My heart hurts so bad right now for all those guys in the locker room.”
The visitors’ locker room was eerily quiet after the Bills handed the Jets their toughest loss in years. New York was eliminated from the playoffs with the 22-17 defeat, which was bad enough. For the second straight season, the Jets were swept by a Buffalo team that failed to make the playoffs.
And, adding acid to an open wound, they lost to Rex Ryan. It was the fifth straight year Rex contributed to the Jets missing the playoffs – four times as their head coach and another this year while coaching against them.
No wonder conversations in the locker room, few as they were, were held barely above a whisper. All-world cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was abused by Sammy Watkins all afternoon, left without speaking to the media. His teammates showered, dressed and headed for the bus in stunned silence.
You couldn’t help but feel for Fitzpatrick after the game. In a league littered with egomaniacal degenerates, he’s one of the good guys. He spent 11 seasons proving he was a quality quarterback who could lead a team into the playoffs. His first taste would have been sweetened by a victory over the Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Fitz instead reminded the 68,670 in attendance why they wanted to rip out their hair so many times during his four years in Buffalo. The same guy who threw one interception during the Jets’ five-game winning streak had three interceptions in the fourth quarter alone Sunday and ended any possibility of winning.
“I’m proud of everyone in that locker room right now, but it hurts,” Fitzpatrick said. “It hurts me a lot. After this interview, I have to walk back in there with the feeling of not playing your best and not making the plays we needed to make to win.”
Fitzpatrick finished the season with 3,905 yards passing and 31 touchdowns, both career highs. He broke the Jets’ record for most touchdown passes in a season when he connected with Brandon Marshall for a 17-yard score late in the second quarter that breathed life into the offense.
It was a 14-yard pass to Eric Decker in the end zone that he failed to complete in the fourth quarter that ultimately doomed the Jets. It was the first of three interceptions on the Jets’ final three drives in the last 11 minutes. If the Jets scored on any of them, they’re celebrating their first playoff appearance since 2010.
Instead, along came the other side of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The first pick came on an isolation play to Decker, who was lined up in the slot and ran a skinny post. Fitzpatrick was looking left the whole way when the gunslinger in him, which he had learned to harness, won a screaming match with the voice in his head telling him to make the smart play and live another day.
Running back Chris Ivory was open on the right side for a big gain and possibly a touchdown. Fitzpatrick, locked on Decker, never looked in Ivory’s direction. Leodis McKelvin was locked on Fitzpatrick and anticipated the pass four days – yes, four days – before the ball left the quarterback’s hand.
“Really, it was an anticipation-timing throw,” Fitzpatrick said. “I put it out there. I think I threw it a little in front of him. I also think Leodis made a nice play. He read the route a little bit. Leodis did a nice job on that one. Obviously, it was a huge point in the game. I wish I had that one back.”
McKelvin essentially predicted the play after practice Wednesday during an interview with our Tyler Dunne. Fitzpatrick had avoided turnovers this season but, as McKelvin said, Fitz was still Fitz. He was bound to make a mistake. McKelvin was waiting to strike the moment Fitzpatrick, right on cue, cocked his right arm.
“I’m happy,” McKelvin said. “I ain’t got another one of my old teammates coming in trying to beat me to get to the playoffs, so that feels great. It feels great that he feels like I feel when we’re watching at home.”
Fitzpatrick’s second interception, which fell into the arms of Manny Lawson, was a wounded pass thrown woefully short while he was getting drilled by Marcell Dareus. One play after nearly hitting Kenbrell Thompkins for a big gain, he was picked off a third time, this one by AJ Tarpley.
In all, his stat line looked like many from his Buffalo days. He completed 16 of 37 passes for 181 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in a loss. Afterward, he left Ralph Wilson Stadium much the way he did after his last game with the Bills, when Buffalo finished 6-10 and ended the season with a win over the Jets.
Fitzpatrick had a terrific season with the Jets and finished 10-6. But, once again, his season ended in The Ralph without his team making the playoffs.
“It’s the hardest and most difficult end to a season that I’ve ever had in terms of how I feel right now and painful of a loss that was,” Fitzpatrick said. “At this point, it doesn’t feel like a great season.”