- - Tuesday, March 16, 2021

If you were tired of Alex Smith, Washington’s boring “game manager” quarterback, you should love Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington’s fun new “gunslinger” quarterback.

There’s never been a better illustration of the difference between the two styles than when Smith and Fitzpatrick met on the field more than two years ago.

On Nov. 11, 2018, Washington’s Smith hit on just 19 of 27 completions for 178 yards, while, on the other side of the field, then-Tampa Bay starter Fitzpatrick racked up 406 yards while going 29 of 41.

But Fitzpatrick and the Buccaneers only managed three points. 

The former Harvard star had two receivers with more than 100 yards each, yet neither got into the end zone. Smith had just one touchdown pass, a six-yarder to Josh Doctson, but that and three Dustin Hopkins field goals were good enough for an improbable 16-3 Washington victory.

That was one of 11 losses for Tampa in a year where Fitzpatrick had four of the biggest passing games in franchise history.

“As a quarterback, when you get in the red zone, you’ve got to get your team into the end zone, and I wasn’t able to do that today,” Fitzpatrick told reporters after the game. “Whether it be decision-making or whatever it was, turnovers, I didn’t do my job today in the red zone, and that was the story of the game.

“I think it was just especially frustrating because of the way we moved the ball, not being able to take advantage in the red zone,” said Fitzpatrick, who had two interceptions. “It’s tough.”

Ask Tampa fans how much fun they had that season.

Fitzpatrick was gone after that. Tampa Bay would move on to another plan. Two years later, with Tom Brady at quarterback, Tampa won the Super Bowl.

Fitzpatrick had moved on to Miami, where he started for most of the 2019 season and seven games in 2020. He put up some impressive numbers at times and last season helped the Dolphins to a 10-6 season, with wins in five of the nine games he appeared in. But Miami had drafted Tua Tagovailoa, and moved on from Fitzpatrick — like seven other teams had before in his NFL career.

There were other circumstances for that bizarre Tampa loss to Washington two years ago. There are always other circumstances surrounding the games of Fitzpatrick, the gunslinger who often winds up leaving town.

He is always Plan D. Not Plan A or B, but further down the alphabet a bit more.

Fitzpatrick certainly wasn’t Plan A for Washington. That reportedly was Matt Stafford, who had no interest in being Plan A for this organization. There were rumblings of trying to acquire Sam Darnold or Marcus Mariota, but likely neither of them would be particularly interested in Washington — if other options existed — or the price would be too high.

Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera and company were left with the traveling gunslinger. Rivera couldn’t actually go into the 2021 season with a damaged Kyle Allen and a perennially damaged Taylor Heinicke as his quarterbacks.

Rivera obviously loves Allen. His remarks that he believed that a healthy Allen could have produced the same results that Smith did when he started for Washington are confirmation of that, as if we needed it. 

After all, Allen was the only quarterback that Rivera really wanted last year, trading for him from Carolina, where Allen had started 12 games for Rivera in 2019. But there may be some questions about his ability to be ready to play this season, coming back from a dislocated ankle — or simply his durability.

So it will be Fitzpatrick, Mr. Plan D, and, hey, they’ll be some fun moments. And there may even be some winning moments. But Fitzpatrick — all 38, soon to be 39 years, of him — will be across the field for Washington next year from Russell Wilson, Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, Derek Carr, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Brady.

Those are Plan A guys.

And while Fitzpatrick makes the Washington quarterback room better, this organization is no closer to a Plan A guy today than they were yesterday, with no plan in sight to move up the alphabet.

Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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