Curses aren't real. But good luck telling that to anyone who has been ahead of Ryan Fitzpatrick on a depth chart.
Fitzpatrick has a chance of starting against the Bills this week after Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder last Sunday against the Cardinals. Winston wants to play if the pain is manageable, but he wasn't allowed to throw at Wednesday's practice.
For Fitzpatrick, this is par for the course. Something always happens to the starting quarterback when he's the backup.
"Guys are aware of it, and [they're] joking around and prodding me about it," Fitzpatrick said on a conference call with Bills reporters when asked about the alleged curse. "It's something that has been crazy over my career. I've had a lot of opportunities, whether through injuries or weird circumstances. Hopefully it's not really true, but it sure does seem to happen a lot."
Amazingly, Fitzpatrick has started at least half of his team's games in each of the last nine seasons. The only other quarterbacks to do that – Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Eli Manning – are all Pro Bowlers or Super Bowl winners who have spent the entire span with one team. Fitzpatrick has played for seven, and only one brought him in with a chance to compete for the No. 1 job.
What also makes this impressive is Fitzpatrick has not been particularly good. Of the 45 quarterbacks who have made at least 100 starts since 1990, only Jeff George, Jeff Blake and Jim Everett own a worse winning percentage than Fitzpatrick's .401. He has only posted a completion percentage above league average three times and has never finished higher than 10th in passing yards or touchdowns despite five top-10 finishes in interceptions. And yet he continues to play.
Fitzpatrick was a seventh-round draft pick of the Rams in 2005 but made three starts as a rookie after Mark Bulger reinjured his shoulder late in the season and second-stringer Jamie Martin suffered a head injury in the first quarter of his ensuing start. That opened the door for Fitzpatrick, who promptly rallied the team from a 21-point deficit to win in overtime.
But the real Fitzmagic didn't begin until 2008, when he kicked off his improbable streak. Fitzpatrick came off the bench to start 12 games that year after Bengals starter Carson Palmer hurt his elbow.
Fitzpatrick began his Bills tenure in 2009, making eight starts after Trent Edwards suffered a concussion. Edwards was named the starter again in 2010, but coach Chan Gailey yanked him for Fitz after just two games. The Bills gave Fitzpatrick the No. 1 job in 2011 and 2012, but the team went 6-10 in both years and Fitzpatrick wasn't invited back.
Fitzpatrick's first stop after Buffalo was Tennessee. He was brought in to back up former first-round pick Jake Locker, but started nine games that season as Locker battled hip and foot injuries.
After that it was off to Houston, where Fitzpatrick was brought in to compete for the starting job. He won the role before training camp, beating out Case Keenum, T.J. Yates and a rookie Tom Savage, and won six games that year – including an emotional game against the Bills that featured an epic pregame speech – before a broken leg ended his season.
You may notice at this point that Fitzpatrick had never posted a winning record as quarterback. His 6-6 mark with the Texans was his best in seven years as a team's predominant starter. But that didn't stop the Jets from calling in 2015. And that's when talk of the Fitzpatrick Curse heated up.
Not saying Jameis Winston should be worried but weird stuff always seems to happen to the starter when Fitz is around. He always gets starts pic.twitter.com/sCRZ1kSwP3
— Nick Veronica (@NickVeronica) May 19, 2017
The Jets wanted Fitzpatrick to back up Geno Smith, a former second-round pick who had a prolific college career. A month before the season, Smith got into a locker-room argument with linebacker IK Enemkpali, who broke his quarterback's jaw with one punch. Another spot suddenly opened up for Fitzpatrick, who went on to have the best season of his career, throwing for 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns while leading the Jets to a 10-6 record.
After all that, 2016 may have been even crazier: After being brought back as the starter, Fitzpatrick was benched twice, only to re-enter the lineup both times when two different replacements got injured shortly after replacing him. Smith was named the starter in late October but tore his ACL in his half of action. Then Fitzpatrick was benched again in December, but replacement Bryce Petty hurt his shoulder, allowing Fitzpatrick to finish out the season in a win against the Bills. He went 2-0 against Buffalo last year and 2-10 against everyone else.
All of it is enough to make even the Harvard-educated quarterback start to wonder.
"Two years ago, after Geno broke his jaw, [the curse] came up," Fitzpatrick said. "Last year when I got benched twice and the guy who went in for me got hurt right away and I got put back in, I started thinking about it a little bit."
Will Fitzpatrick be thrust into action once again? That's up to Winston's shoulder. But if the last decade of football has taught us anything, don't bet against it.