ASHBURN, Va. – Ryan Fitzpatrick and his magnificent beard plan to lead Washington on to the field for the season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sept. 12. The 38-year-old's role as starting quarterback was never in question.
Ron Rivera only this week identified “FitzMagic” as the starter. Fitzpatrick said Thursday he did not need the public declaration after a QB competition against Taylor Heinicke that was more of a coronation, but now he's ready to embrace the job of starting for a ninth team in his 17th NFL season.
“As we get going into the season and having those defined roles and being able to really take all the reps and work on all the little nuances with different guys, that’s when everything really gets heightened and becomes a big deal,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s nice to know and to have that and to have those extra reps with those guys.”
Rivera began training camp splitting the first-team snaps between Fitzpatrick and Heinicke, determined not to make the same mistake he did a year ago by declaring 2019 No. 15 pick Dwayne Haskins the starter so early. If it wasn't clear through the first few days of drills, it became obvious in two preseason games that this was Fitzpatrick's offense and team.
“Fitz’s experience and his overall knowledge — football knowledge, football acumen — really just said, ‘Wow, this guy’s really got it together,'” Rivera said. "I feel very confident and comfortable that he can manage our offense and he can make plays when we need to have them made.”
Washington cut Alex Smith (since retired) after winning the NFC East and signed Fitzpatrick to give offensive coordinator Scott Turner's unit some more oomph. Fitzpatrick takes more chances with the ball but believes he's a better passer than earlier in his career thanks to some mechanical adjustments and experience. His improved touchdown-to-interception ratio backs that up.
Fitzpatrick knows he'll throw some picks, but unlike Smith he'll throw the ball down the field and open up things.
“To me, managing a game and making the right decisions, it doesn’t necessarily mean just dinking and dunking and throwing short passes,” Fitzpatrick said. "It means making good decisions that pertain to the certain particular situation that you’re in during a game.”
Fitzpatrick has been in just about every situation through stints with the Rams, Bengals, Bills, Titans, Texans, Jets, Buccaneers and Dolphins. He's less than 3,000 yards away from passing Boomer Esiason on the career list and just over 5,500 back of Hall of Famers Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana.
To his credit, Fitzpatrick credits playing so long for even being able to climb so far up that list. But his experience is a major asset for Washington, which already has a defense that ranks among the best in the league, and weapons on offense such as running back Antonio Gibson and receiver Terry McLaurin who could use a steady hand at the wheel.
“It’s just his confidence,” McLaurin said. “He doesn’t really say too much. He’s not like a big ‘rah rah’ guy, but when you make a big play, you feel it. You feel his ability to get you in the right play and know he’s going to come to you. When he’s telling you to do something, it’s for a specific reason.”
There's also a specific reason Fitzpatrick chose Washington over other suitors as a free agent — and not just because a ninth team allows he and his wife and their seven children to each have a different jersey to show off. Having never before played in the playoffs, he thinks this is just the chance to guide a team there.
“This as a great opportunity for me — one that maybe I haven’t even had an opportunity like this in my career,” Fitzpatrick said. "I’m looking forward to doing everything I can to take advantage of it.”
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