It’s not often that good news comes out of an MRI tube, but somehow, the Jets and Ryan Fitzpatrick got a double dose of it on Monday.
The good news for Fitzpatrick was that the MRI performed on his left knee showed no structural damage, nothing torn and no need to go under the knife. In the rough-and-tumble world of the NFL, a sprained MCL is not considered a serious injury.
And the good news for the Jets is that the injury might just give them an excuse to sit Fitzpatrick this week against the Rams – and maybe, for the remainder of this lost season – without igniting the fuel of a full-blown quarterback controversy.
For Jets fans who have watched Fitzpatrick and the Jets struggle to a 3-6 record – and that’s without having met the Patriots yet – the letters MRI might just as well stand for Make Ryan Inactive.
Because that is the likely outcome of Monday’s test, and it is an announcement many fans have been waiting to hear for nearly a month now.
It may also be Todd Bowles’ last chance to demonstrate who’s really calling the shots for this team, because it’s hard to imagine a truly independent head coach sticking this long with an arrangement that is not working.
The coach danced around the issue at his media availability on Monday, saying he wouldn’t know for sure if Fitzpatrick would be OK to play until Wednesday or Thursday. But in a declaration that will come as disheartening to many, he added, “I’m always trying to give us our best chance to win. I’m not just going to throw a game to put somebody in there who’s not ready to play. I’m not saying those guys aren’t, but right now Fitz gives us our best chance to win.’’
He also hedged slightly: “If Fitz can’t go, Bryce (Petty) will get his opportunity this week.’’
That should come without the disclaimer.
By now, it is clear that Fitzpatrick’s 2015 season was an outlier, an obvious aberration in the career of a journeyman. His 2016 stats are about as bad an NFL quarterback’s can possibly be while still holding onto his job, and the only reason he hadn’t been replaced earlier was due to the simple fact that the Jets had no other choice.
They have even fewer choices now – the team that started the season with four quarterbacks on its active roster is now down to two with a total of four NFL plays between them but no longer any excuse not to make a change.
They already knew what that had in Geno Smith, and what they knew, they didn’t like. Second-year QB Bryce Petty, their fourth-round pick in 2015, was recovering from a shoulder injury and wasn’t ready to play. Christian Hackenburg, the Jets second-round pick from last year, might turn out to be the QB of the future, but like all NFL head coaches, Bowles was still thinking in the present tense, and even at 3-5 the Jets were still technically in the playoff hunt.
But Sunday’s 27-23 loss to the Dolphins changed all that, and Fitzpatrick’s knee injury, as benign as it may seem, only makes the reality easier to accept.
Despite his public pronouncements of support, it is clear what Bowles’ gut has been telling him since Week 7, when he decided to bench the struggling Fitzpatrick in favor of Smith for the game against the Ravens. Fate intervened that day in the form of a torn ACL for Smith – a serious injury even by NFL standards – and Fitzpatrick only muddied the waters further by leading the Jets to victory that day and in the following week’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
But that illusion of yet another unlikely comeback by Fitzpatrick – and by extension, the Jets – was shattered by his performance Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
Yes, Fitzpatrick’s toughness was on display again – after missing nary a snap after suffering a helmet to helmet hit the week before that sent his hat flying across the field, Fitzpatrick missed just one offensive sequence after taking the hit that from Miami DT Jordan Phillips that injured his knee in the third quarter, giving Bryce Petty the chance to take his first-ever NFL snaps – but so were his liabilities. Glaringly so.
Once again, his performance in the red zone – which in the Jets case should be the Red Alert Zone – was abysmal: 4-for-9, one touchdown and one backbreaking pick in the end zone, his fifth interception this season inside the 20.
In fact, Fitzpatrick leads the league in just one category, the one no quarterback wants to lead any league in, interceptions (13). His QB rating (67.6) is the lowest of any starting QB in the league, his average yards per completion an anemic 6.6, his completion percentage (56.5) also the lowest among starting NFL quarterbacks.
As a result, the Jets passing offense is 26th in the league, as is their average points per game. This is not solely Fitzpatrick’s fault, of course. Losing Eric Decker a month ago deprived him of an important weapon, and the magic between Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall, which had already worn off on the field, seems to have vanished off the field as well, evidenced by their sideline shouting match during Sunday’s game.
And the defense is hardly blameless; the return to Revis Island has been no second honeymoon – their secondary is porous against the pass – they’ve allowed more points than all but a half-dozen teams and they get very little pressure on an opposing quarterback.
But as always, the finger points most directly at the man directing the offense, and the easiest, and most visible, change is to tank the quarterback. Fitzpatrick’s injury makes it almost a no-brainer.
Now, the opportunity is there for Bowles to do what he obviously wanted to do three weeks ago – sit Fitzpatrick for the duration and see just exactly what he’s got in Petty. The second-year man might, or might not, be the answer to the question that has befuddled the Jets for the better part of five decades – namely, will they ever draft a successful NFL quarterback again? – and there is no better time to find out than now.
Luckily for Bowles and the Jets, an MRI tube virtually took the decision out of their hands.
And it doesn’t take a radiologist to correctly interpret the results.