In the fall of 2019, there was little reason to watch a matchup between the winless Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins — let alone a reason it should have been entertaining. For three quarters, the widely dubbed “Toilet Bowl” lived up to the billing: Two bad teams playing bad football.
Then, in the fourth, Ryan Fitzpatrick came in.
Replacing a struggling Josh Rosen, Fitzpatrick came in for a wild quarter in which the veteran journeyman carved up Washington’s defense all over the field as Miami rallied from two scores down. Fitzpatrick wasn’t just watchable — he was electric, never more so than in the moment when he threw a touchdown with six seconds left and the Dolphins went for the win with a two-point conversion attempt.
Washington made the stop and held on. Barely.
“Shoot, man,” guard Ereck Flowers said at the time. “A big relief.”
The jolt Fitzpatrick provided — or “Fitzmagic,” as it’s commonly known — has often been the story of his career. It’s as distinguishable as the 38-year-old’s bushy beard or his alma mater (Did you know Fitzpatrick went to Harvard?).
And now, more than a year after that game, Washington is turning to Fitzpatrick in hopes that same spark will help them take the next step as the franchise looks to build upon the success coach Ron Rivera had in Year 1.
After agreeing to a one-year, $10 million deal late Monday that can become official Wednesday, Fitzpatrick arrives in Washington after a whirlwind journey that’s spanned eight different teams across 16 seasons. He’s not without flaws and has never made the playoffs. He’ll need to beat out Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen for the starting job. He’s also very much a bridge quarterback, and his contract is cheap enough where Washington could still add another signal-caller if the team wanted.
But for Washington, he represents the chance at an upgrade — a much-needed one at that.
Last season, Fitzpatrick added an expected 0.247 points added per play when under center for the Dolphins — the sixth-best rate in football among quarterbacks to play at least 200 snaps. Expected points added, or EPA, is an advanced statistic that measures a quarterback’s effectiveness on per play basis that factors in circumstances such as down, distance and time remaining. In 2019, Fitzpatrick ranked 17th (.103) on a Miami team stripped of talent.
In terms of conventional statistics, Fitzpatrick threw for 2,091 yards, 18 touchdowns and completed 68.5% of his passes in nine games. He was benched after six starts, but that was due to Miami wanting to turn to first-rounder Tua Tagovailoa and not performance-related. The Dolphins turned back to Fitzpatrick late in the year in an attempt to make the playoffs.
More than anything, he’s the type of gunslinger that can potentially unlock Washington’s offense. His willingness to take shots deep down the field aligns with offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s aggressive philosophy. Alex Smith had success with Washington last season, but the team’s offense still ranked 32nd — last — in offensive efficiency.
That type of style comes with risk. Fitzpatrick’s 169 interceptions since 2005 are the fifth-most in that span. And despite his success in Miami, Fitzpatrick can be inconsistent from year-to-year: He had a 88 quarterback rating with the Jets in 2015 and then a 69.6 rating just a season later.
Because of the downside, Fitzpatrick is unlikely to be any team’s first option. In this case, he might not even be Washington’s second or third option — the organization unsuccessfully pursued trades for Matthew Stafford, Sam Darnold and Marcus Mariota, after all.
But Fitzpatrick has a lot of the qualities that Rivera and Co. have said they are searching for at the position. By all accounts, he’s universally liked by teammates: Running back Myles Gaskin said in a radio interview that Fitzpatrick was the “coolest dude” he’s ever played with. Tight end Mike Gesicki called Fitzpatrick “the greatest teammate.”
Washington is still a relatively young team and looking to replace Smith’s leadership.
“You’ve got to have football intelligence to play the position,” Washington general manager Martin Mayhew said last month. “You’ve got to have the arm talent. The leadership ability is really important. One of the most important things I think is the football character. That’s all the preparation that goes into it, that’s understanding the game, that’s being mentally tough, that’s having passion for it. All of those things are required in that position.”
But in a way, signing with Washington is a nice twist for Fitzpatrick. Then a clean-faced rookie for the St. Louis Rams in 2005, Fitzpatrick made his first career start against Washington — even taking a sack from the late safety Sean Taylor.
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