FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) - Ryan Fitzpatrick’s bushy beard is already in midseason form. The New York Jets hope his command of the offense gets there, too. Quickly.
The veteran quarterback is suddenly an NFL starter again, but not exactly how he - or anyone else - envisioned.
Fitzpatrick assumed the starting role Tuesday after Geno Smith was lost for at least six to 10 weeks with a broken jaw after being punched by teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali in the locker room.
“It was an unfortunate situation, something that I can’t look backward at,” Fitzpatrick said Tuesday. “I have to look forward and do the best I can to get on the same page as quickly as possible.”
General manager Mike Maccagnan acquired Fitzpatrick from Houston in March as insurance for Smith, who is entering his third season after two shaky years. Fitzpatrick joining the Jets was largely overshadowed after the team also traded for wide receiver Brandon Marshall and made a huge splash in free agency with a number of signings, including cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine.
Bringing Fitzpatrick in could end up being the most significant deal of all.
Smith was having a good training camp, growing increasingly comfortable in new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s system. That was before the punch.
Enemkpali was released, Smith is likely facing surgery on his jaw and the Jets are pushing forward. The 32-year-old Fitzpatrick knows Gailey’s offense, having successfully worked in it during their time together in Buffalo from 2010-12.
“There’s a lot of comfort for me being in Chan’s system,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s also a lot I’ll continue to get better at in terms of game situations and being a smart quarterback.”
The former Harvard player worked mostly with the second-team offense throughout training camp, so he’ll need to get better acquainted with starters like Marshall and Eric Decker.
Coach Todd Bowles said he’s confident in Fitzpatrick, who had been having a good camp along with Smith.
“It’s hard to replace a guy when both guys are doing well,” Bowles said. “You (can’t be) wishy-washy, but Ryan’s been a pro. He’s been there before.”
Fitzpatrick has thrown for 19,273 yards and 123 touchdowns in 10 NFL seasons during stops with St. Louis, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Tennessee and Houston. His best overall years came under Gailey with the Bills, throwing for at least 3,000 yards in all three seasons, along with at least 23 TDs in each.
“I’ve seen him play (and) know what he’s capable of,” guard Willie Colon said. “We believe in him, we trust in him.”
Fitzpatrick started 12 games for the Texans - where Maccagnan worked in the front office - last season before breaking his left leg in against Indianapolis. He appears fully healthy, and his confidence is also in great shape.
“If I didn’t want to be here and if I didn’t love this game and have confidence in myself, then I wouldn’t be standing in front of you guys,” he said. “I would be on vacation with my five kids and sailing off into the sunset with a career nobody probably thought I would have had. For me, I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done.”
This is but the latest twist in how Fitzpatrick has landed a starting job in the NFL.
In 2008, he finished the season as Cincinnati’s starter, going 4-7-1 after Carson Palmer was hurt. After signing with the Bills in 2009 to serve as Trent Edwards’ backup, he eventually closed the season as the starter. Fitzpatrick won the job in 2010 three weeks into the season when Gailey benched Edwards - and Fitzpatrick stayed under center through the end of the 2012 season, when Gailey was fired.
He signed with Tennessee as a free agent the following year and started nine games, replacing the injured Jake Locker. After signing with Houston last year, Fitzpatrick began as the starter but was replaced by Ryan Mallett. After Mallett was hurt, Fitzpatrick again stepped in as the starting quarterback.
“After being traded from Houston to here, I didn’t know if I’d ever find myself in a position to start a game again,” Fitzpatrick said. “I understand that the opportunities are few and far between and I understand that my time in this league is probably limited in terms of getting these opportunities. So, I’m going to take advantage of every single day and every single rep that I get out there.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Orchard Park, N.Y., contributed to this report.
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