When the Miami Dolphins administration allegedly formulated its plan to “tank” the 2019 season in order to lose enough games to earn the No. 1 draft choice in next spring’s NFL draft, it probably should have added a quarterback stipulation.
After all, the whole reason for the Dolphins dispatching productive players was to select their coveted franchise QB, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
But, ironically, one of the National Football League’s most traveled quarterbacks has scuttled that ‘tank’ talk and rejuvenated a Miami team that was an embarrassment the first quarter of the season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, whose pro career features stops with the Rams, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Tennessee, Houston, the Jets, Tampa Bay and Miami actually started this season’s first two games for the Dolphins, 59-10 and 43-0 home losses to Baltimore and New England, respectively.
Then the job went to second-year pro Josh Rosen, acquired from Arizona a year after the Cardinals took him in the first round of the 2018 draft. He presided over a 31-6 defeat at Dallas and a 30-10 loss to the L.A. Chargers at Hard Rock Stadium. That completed an 0-4 start in which Miami was outscored 163-26.
But in Game 5 at home against Washington, Rosen started, then was pulled in favor of Fitzpatrick who almost rallied the Dolphins, a failed potential game-winning two-point conversion attempt, producing a 17-16 defeat.
But that was the first of five straight resurgent games by Miami.
After saying Rosen was still the starter, coach Brian Flores changed his mind and inserted Fitz who has held the position ever since. Next up was a 31-21 loss at Buffalo, though the Dolphins out-played the Bills in that one, followed by a 27-14 defeat at Pittsburgh which Miami led 14-0 and didn’t fall behind until late in the third quarter.
Now the Dolphins are on a two-game win streak, having beaten the Jets at Hard Rock Stadium and the Colts at Indianapolis.
Sunday, Miami hosts the Bills who will face Fitzpatrick yet again.
When asked about the tanking talk, he admitted, “It’s an interesting narrative that obviously has been following our team the whole year. But it’s been nice to get two wins and kill the narrative a little bit.
“It’s been a lot of fun for me, especially since coming back into the lineup. I think this team needs somebody with some energy, that can go out and lead and try to have some fun, and hopefully that rubs off on other guys.
“(I’m) giving guys plenty of chances in the passing game getting us into the right play and doing all of those things that a quarterback needs to do; but first and foremost, the energy and the confidence that these guys need to play with, I’m trying to do as best I can in that regard. We’ve really done a nice job the last few weeks in playing off each other and playing with confidence.”
What’s been the turning point?
“I think when I got reinserted in the Washington game and we had the 2-point conversion at the end to win it, from that point on, practice has been much better.” Fitzpatrick said. “Guys have been playing with more energy. There’s been a lot more confidence in the building and you could feel the turnaround coming a little bit.
“(There were) a couple of tough plays in the Buffalo game and a couple in the Pittsburgh game, but the Jets win we could feel coming. It was nice to follow that up with another victory in Indy last week.”
Flores credits Fitzpatrick with the turnaround.
“There’s a way about him with his teammates, with the coaches, with everybody in the building,” the first-year head coach said. “He’s just a real likable person and he’s got great leadership. He loves to play the game and it’s infectious – the way he practices, the way he creates relationships, and that’s been very helpful to our young team.”
Flores added, “There’s 100 different things that go on at the quarterback position, and they really happen all at once. I think it takes time to be able to handle all those things and manage the offense, manage the game, manage the situation, know the down-and-distance. It takes a unique person and he has all those traits.”
Fitzpatrick also has had experience quarterbacking teams off to a disastrous start.
“I don’t know if there’s many guys in the league that can claim that one – 0-8 a few times,” he said with a laugh. “It truly is important to walk into the building with a smile on your face because we put so much time and energy into this game that it’s absolutely miserable when you’re not winning, and it rubs off on people.
“That was one thing I learned – whether it was in Buffalo or in Cincinnati after Carson Palmer got hurt and we’re sitting there staring at 0-8 – you have to have a smile on your face and come to work with energy. Although there’s a lot of different things going on – keep proper perspective on the fact that you’re an NFL football player doing this for a living.”
Fitzpatrick, now 36, maintained, “Just to go out there and have fun. That attitude – especially in the position of quarterback but anywhere on the team – is so important because it resonates with the whole building, whether you’re miserable and down or happy and trying to provide some energy. That’s the most important thing that I’ve learned over the years.
“It’s hard to look back and have regrets. I’ve tried to study as hard as I can, play as hard as I can and leave it on the field. I know it’s a cliché, but that’s just the way I’ve done it my whole career. I try not to look back in regret.”
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)