Amish Rifle disarmed and dismayed
The Amish Rifle may have fired his last shot. No one is more baffled by that than The Rifleman himself.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has had the most unlikely of NFL careers. Drafted in the seventh round out of Harvard, he has found a way to last for 16 years in a business where the average career length is 3 ½ years. He has started 145 games, played on eight teams and been let go by seven of them. So perhaps it should have come as no shock when Dolphins’ coach Brian Flores told him Tuesday he was handing the ball and Miami’s offense to young Tua Tagovailoa, the former No. 1 draft choice who entered the NFL rehabbing a dreadful knee injury that for a time looked like it might end his career before it had even begun.
If you play in the NFL and want to find loyalty buy a dictionary or a puppy because that is the only place you will find it. Guys like Flores are loyal to no one. They are paid to win not lead a Boy Scout troop. As one long-time NFL assistant once told me, “We’re coaches. We’re all whores for talent.’’
That seemed a bit harsh but also fairly accurate so Fitzpatrick’s stunned reaction to being benched in favor of the kid seen as the Dolphins’ future might seem strange at first, especially from a Harvard man who has always understood the long odds he faced in the NFL.
Yet when you’ve just led your team to back-to-back victories by throwing six touchdown passes, have won three of your last four games, have a 95.0 quarterback rating and are posting a passing accuracy percentage of 70.1%, 10% above your career average, you can’t be faulted for believing you’d created momentary job assurance. Yet the truth is a guy like the 37-year-old Fitzpatrick has less job assurance than a West Virginia coalminer.
Fitzpatrick’s emotions spilled out Wednesday, 24 hours after he’d been told he’d lost his job, when he said repeatedly that he was “heartbroken” and that “my heart was so heavy yesterday.’’ He bit his lower lip each time he said it, his thick hedgerow of a beard still hiding the remnants of what he’d had for breakfast but unable to hide his emotions.
Yet leave it to a Harvard Man to frame in a unique way what he was going through on his first day back at work after learning he would no longer be under center when the Dolphins next play in 10 days.
“This profession is interesting in that the guy that fired me – I basically got fired yesterday and then my day of work today consisted of me in Zoom meetings listening to the guy that fired me, and then locked in a spaced-out room with my replacement for four hours today,’’ Fitzgerald said. “So there aren’t a whole lot of jobs that are like that.
“But I know how difficult it is to play the quarterback position, and I know that that room is so important to the guy that’s playing in terms of everybody having your back and pulling in the same direction. So today’s the day to digest a little bit, and we’ll get away for the bye a little bit. But once this thing starts up again I’ve got to do my best for Tua to help him out because there’s two separate situations here. One is with Tua – and I want him to do well and I think he’s a great kid and I think he has a really bright future. And the other one is my feelings and just kind of what I’m going through and that has to be separate from when I walk into this building and help him out. I’ve got to separate those feelings from trying to be professional and help him out as best I can.’’
Those are the words of a man dealing with a harsh reality. It is one thing to lose your job for poor performance. It is quite another to have righted your team’s ship and won three of your last four to even Miami’s record at 3-3 only to be laid off. While versions of this scenario have played out all across the American labor landscape since the arrival of Covid-19 on our shores, the difference is, as the Amish Rifle put it so well, he was fired and then had to sit and listen to the guy he has to believe unfairly fired him for four hours talk about “next game.’’ For who?
Fitzpatrick never deluded himself into thinking he was the long-term answer in Miami. He understood from the moment the Dolphins drafted Tagovailoa that he was little more than a placeholder. He even alluded to that the day after Flores fired him, saying he always understood it was “a matter of when not if.’’
What he never expected, though, was he would lose the job under the present circumstances, ones in which he was playing good football, his team was responding to him and his backup had never taken so much as a snap against live fire until late last Sunday at the end of a blowout victory over the Jets that had been to a great extent been made possible by Fitzpatrick throwing three touchdown passes.
Maybe it was the two interceptions he also threw on Sunday that convinced Flores to fire him. Maybe it was as simple as Tagovailoa looking healthy and ready in practice and deciding the best way to start a new era was to do so with two weeks to prepare him.
Who knows? All “The Amish Rifle” knew on Tuesday was that his gun was now empty. Maybe for good.
“There was a lot of stuff going through my mind yesterday, just from a personal standpoint, not necessarily with the team,’’ Fitzpatrick admitted. “Is this it? Like, was that my last game as an NFL player in terms of being the starter and going out there and playing?’’
Even for a guy who 16 years ago probably never thought he’d start a single game let alone nearly 200 it was a bitter pill to swallow. Yet when Tagovailoa praised Fitzpatrick by saying, “I hate to say it like this but it is like this. It’s like a father-and-son thing’’ he was speaking the truth too.
In the end, the son almost always out lasts the father. So it has been this week for “The Amish Rifle,’’ a loaded gun suddenly disarmed and put away in the back of a meeting room to wait. For what?
Well, in the NFL you never know about loyalty. Like players, it comes and goes.