Facing Jets means 'a little bit extra' for Bucs' Fitzpatrick
Florham Park, N.J. — It took a while for Ryan Fitzpatrick to get over what happened to him and the New York Jets last season.
High expectations with big-time playoff hopes fizzled with each ugly loss, and the veteran quarterback's shaky play was a major reason for a 5-11 finish.
He was benched twice during the season and sent packing when it was over — just a few months after getting a one-year, $12 million deal — becoming a free agent when his contract voided in February . The whirlwind of events had Fitzpatrick contemplating retirement over the winter.
"It was a tough situation for me," Fitzpatrick said during a conference call Wednesday with Jets beat reporters. "I've dealt with a lot of adversity in my career, but more so than anything, I think it was the disappointment. Just the disappointment in me not being able to perform and lead the team to more wins. As a team, not being able to live up to the expectations that were put in front of us and a lot of that falling on me."
Fitzpatrick took a few weeks during the winter to consider his options, leaning heavily on his family to help him decide on his next step.
In May, he signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Buccaneers to back up Jameis Winston, just two years after setting the Jets' franchise record with 31 touchdown passes and being within a win of making the postseason for the first time in his career.
"It was an interesting two years there with 2015 being a year where I had so much fun playing, and 2016 being the toughest year in my career, just in terms of my performance and not meeting the expectations, both personally and as a team," Fitzpatrick said.
"I had to step away and think about it for a little bit. You make decisions for all kinds of different reasons, but one of the driving factors for me was I still enjoy playing. My boys are at the age where they can really understand it and get it, so that definitely played into it a little bit as well."
Now, as fate would have it, Fitzpatrick will start for the first time with the Buccaneers while facing the Jets on Sunday in Tampa Bay.
"It's something I've had to do in my career plenty of times in going up against former teams," he said. "It seems like, especially in the last five or six years, that's been a standard theme.
"They always tend to show up on the opponents list, but it probably means a little bit extra to me, just being there for two years and just being competitive with a lot of those guys, having a lot of good friends that are still on the team."
Winston will miss at least two weeks with a shoulder injury. The 34-year-old Fitzpatrick replaced him in the second half of the Buccaneers' 30-10 loss to New Orleans last Sunday .
"I think it's ironic that I move on to another team and the first start that I'm going to have is against the Jets, but I'm excited for the opportunity," he said.
"I know there's the stuff with me, obviously being there the last two years, but more than anything just trying to do my best for this team. We're sitting at 2-6 and disappointed with how this season has gone so far, so I'm just trying to fill in and find a way to get us a win."
That has been the long-playing scenario for Fitzpatrick, who has made a career of being a backup who has found himself under center at some point for the seven franchises he has played for over 13 NFL seasons.
"We're in a situation, and this is never one you wish to be in with the starter getting hurt," Fitzpatrick said. "So I think it's unfortunate in that regard, but I know that nobody is going to feel sorry for us because we don't have our starting quarterback, so I have to go out there and do the best I can for the guys on this team."
Fitzpatrick got his first extended playing time last month when he filled in for Winston, who left the Buccaneers' 38-33 loss in Arizona with a shoulder injury. The veteran finished 22 of 32 for 290 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions while nearly leading Tampa Bay to a comeback win.
Fitzpatrick's biggest takeaway from that performance was how much fun he had running an offense again. And it validated his decision to not walk away from football a few months ago.
"It was tough because it was in a losing effort," he said. "We didn't win the game and we were behind by a lot, but just getting back onto the field and realizing and feeling the love that I have always had for the game and that passion was still there, that was a good, good feeling for me."
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