Ryan Fitzpatrick provides substance, not style for New York Jets


FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- At the conclusion of Todd Bowles' postgame press conference Sunday, Ryan Fitzpatrick stepped to the podium. That's routine.

So is this: Fitzpatrick was still in full uniform, after 60 minutes of football on an unseasonably warm December afternoon, wearing his shoulder pads, cleats and No. 14 jersey. Dirt and sweat be darned.

This is by Fitzpatrick's design. Staying in uniform for postgame interviews is, he has decided, preferable to hearing from his own personal Fashion Police -- Grandma and Mom to aunts and uncles, he said -- who regularly would pepper him with questions that boiled down to, "What ... were ... you ... wearing?"

"Yeah," Fitzpatrick said, "or they'll say my suit button wasn't buttoned. 'What is that flannel? You look like a lumberjack.' All that stuff. So I've found that it's a lot easier for me to go up there in my shoulder pads and jersey; then there's less ridicule from friends and family."

A Harvard graduate and 11th-year pro who is quarterbacking the season of his life for the playoff-possible New York Jets, Fitzpatrick understands.

"I have horrible style," he said. "So if I go to the podium in shoulder pads, then there's a little less backlash. I don't get texts and voicemails about how ridiculous I look and how horrible my style is."

We wonder if Fitzpatrick knows how amusing all of this is.

"It's the truth," he said.

So is this: What the Jets need from Fitzpatrick is not style. It's substance. And he's providing no shortage of that.

On his sixth team and having made 102 career starts, Fitzpatrick already has set personal career highs for touchdowns (25) and wins as a starting quarterback (eight) in a season.

He directs a Jets offense that ranks in the league's top 12 in total yards, scoring, rushing and passing. It ranks first in facial hair.

After the Jets dropped four of five games from Weeks 7-11, Fitzpatrick trimmed his epic beard. The Jets now are riding a three-game winning streak, during which Fitzpatrick has thrown for 930 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

"I think it was a huge catalyst," Fitzpatrick said of his closer shave. "I think that pretty much changed the mojo and changed everything."

Said Bowles: "I'm thinking about cutting it off, see if he can get even better."

By season's end, Fitzpatrick (89.8) may deliver the best passer rating for a Jets starting quarterback since Chad Pennington in 2004 (91.0).

Importantly for these Jets, the 33-year-old Fitzpatrick is an adult, a studier who is incredibly popular with teammates.

"He's very intelligent, he can make you feel at home and he's a funny guy, obviously," said Bowles, the first-year head coach who has made it clear he'd like Fitzpatrick, set to be a free agent this offseason, to return in 2016. "He has his own humor, but he can make you feel like you want to play hard for him. Everybody gravitates to [him]."

The talent around him helps. Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker have caught 20 touchdowns combined; they lead the NFL in receptions (155) and are second in receiving yards (2,062).

Decker prides himself on being the first among his teammates, months ago, to wear the now-popular "FitzMagic" T-shirt. He said the connection with Fitzpatrick came easily in August, when he first realized they "were conceptually seeing routes" the same way.

Fitzpatrick has no ego, teammates say, which helps with the exchange of ideas.

As Marshall said, "With quarterbacks, you have to be able to approach it like a CEO. You have to be able to lead up and down. There's a game on the field and a game off the field. He does a great job of that."

Between them, Marshall and Fitzpatrick have played 259 games for 10 teams in 21 seasons -- but they've never reached the postseason.

The Jets are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Even if they win out, because of tiebreakers, they are not guaranteed a spot. But they do have a chance.

With a win Saturday night at Dallas, the Jets would ensure their first winning season since 2010. So, there's that.

And for Fitzpatrick, there's this: His sons -- Brady, 8, and 6-year-old Tate -- were in the locker room Sunday and are harsh critics of Dad's game.

"I think [they saw that] Decker was open on a pass I didn't throw to him," Fitzpatrick said. "But they've been happy. When we're winning, they're happy. The Fitzpatrick home is happy when we're winning. If we lose one, I'll let you know. They'll probably have some choice words for Dad."

At least he's used to it.

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports.

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