Fitzpatrick settling in as Jets' offensive leader
He knew it was Geno Smith's team and understood that he was an insurance policy, a veteran who could step in seamlessly if needed.
That day came sooner than anyone could've imagined when the franchise was rocked by Ikemefuna Enemkpali's punch that broke Smith's jaw in the locker room last month.
Just like that, Fitzpatrick was back in a starting role - and he has established himself as a leader for a team that is looking for its first 3-0 start since 2009 with a game against the struggling Philadelphia Eagles (0-2) Sunday.
''We're not good enough to look past anybody,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''At this point, we just have to focus each and every week on the next opponent.''
That's kind of how Fitzpatrick has approached his NFL career for the past 11 years. He's a Harvard guy who was a seventh-round pick of St. Louis in 2005 with starts and stints on the bench mixed throughout stops with six teams.
On Tuesday, coach Todd Bowles made the hardly stunning announcement that Fitzpatrick was the Jets' starting quarterback until further notice - no matter when Smith is fully healthy. Fitzpatrick has been solid in two games, throwing for 423 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions while earning the trust and confidence of the offense.
''I'm here and I'm going to do whatever they tell me to do,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''They want me out there, I want to be out there, so it wasn't really a big deal to me other than I'm excited for an opportunity on Sunday to go out there and play well.''
Fitzpatrick's even-keeled, ho-hum approach mirrors that of his head coach. That has played a large part in him making the transition from backup to starter so smooth in New York.
After all, Fitzpatrick has taken the job that Smith expected to have - and that could have made for some awkward moments in the quarterbacks room.
''Nobody's worried about stepping on each other's toes or anything like that,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''We're all worried about getting a win for our team. I think that's important to keep in mind.''
A final X-ray on Smith's jaw cleared him to fully practice this week for the first time since the incident on Aug. 11 cast his season in doubt. He's feeling good and might back up Fitzpatrick against the Eagles.
''You want to be out there,'' Smith said. ''I'm not happy, but it's not one of those things where it's going to change my approach or going to change the way that I approach teammates. It's the decision. I understand it. I'm not bitter about it. I understand why.''
Smith might still have another opportunity to start someday, but he dismissed the notion that his chance to establish himself in what many considered a make-or-break season was ruined.
''The window and all that stuff, man, I'm 24 years old,'' Smith said. ''So whoever wants to say that, they can say that, but I know that I have a lot of football left in me, and I will get a chance.''
Smith found out that Fitzpatrick would be the guy under center for the immediate future from Bowles' conference call Tuesday, something he said was ''no big deal.'' He also acknowledged that he's frustrated by the circumstances that put him in this situation, but insisted he's on board with the rest of the team and credited Fitzpatrick for being a great influence.
''You kind of understand how things work, and we're on a roll right now, so I'm not opposed to it,'' he said. ''It's out of my control.''
Fitzpatrick has been in Smith's shoes several times in his career, and can appreciate both sides of a quarterback situation. Just last season, he began as the starter for the Houston Texans before being pulled - and taking over again when Ryan Mallett was injured.
''I think I have learned a lot as I've gone from different guys that I've sat behind or just through different experiences where I've been the starter on different teams,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''I just try to continue to learn, but apply those lessons to everything that I'm doing here.''
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