Todd Bowles: Ryan Fitzpatrick 'really commanded the offense' in limited play

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Friday, August 14, 2015

DETROIT -- With former starting quarterback Geno Smith recovering from jaw surgery in a New Jersey hospital, the New York Jets opened the preseason Thursday night, hoping to move past the locker-room fight that made them a national punch line.

They embraced their new quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played efficiently in only one series of the Jets' 23-3 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

Afterward, they didn't want to talk about the Smith-IK Enemkpalialtercation, although players managed to smile when asked whether they were surprised Enemkpali was claimed on waivers by their former coach, Rex Ryan of the Buffalo Bills.

"I'm pretty sure the whole locker room knew that was going to happen," Sheldon Richardson said.

"Rex is Rex," Willie Colon said. "We weren't surprised at all."

On Tuesday morning, Enemkpali was released by the Jets after punching Smith in the face. Coach Todd Bowles called it a "sucker punch," but sources confirmed Smith might have provoked Enemkpali by pointing a finger in his face. They were arguing over $600 that Smith owed to Enemkpali.

Before the game, the Jets announced that Smith's surgery included the insertion of metal plates and screws into his jaw, which was fractured in two places. His jaw won't have to be wired shut during his recovery.

Initially, the team said Smith would be out for six to 10 weeks. Bowles declined to give a revised timetable, adding, "Hopefully, he heals quicker."

There was nary a mention of Smith's name in the locker room. The players threw their support to the well-traveled Fitzpatrick, 32, who started the game despite only one day of practice with the first-team offense.

Fitzpatrick completed two of three passes for 16 yards, orchestrating a 10-play, 41-yard drive that ended with a field goal. Bowles said he limited Fitzpatrick because he hadn't had much time to work with the starters. Rookie Bryce Petty finished the game.

"I thought he did well," Bowles said of Fitzpatrick. "He really commanded the offense. He's cool, calm and collected. There was nothing big to brag about, but he did his job."

After two years of Smith's uneven play, the Jets are looking for stability at the position.

"He believes in us, and we believe in him," Colon said. "It's kind of a smooth groove, if you will."

Fitzpatrick, acquired in a trade with the Houston Texans, missed a good chunk of the offseason as he recovered from a broken leg. He's not as sharp or as strong as he'll need to be for the regular season, but he felt "comfortable" in his Jets debut.

"Whether it's me or a lot of the other guys that have some mileage on their bodies, health is the No. 1 important thing in the preseason," Fitzpatrick said.

The Jets made it through a day without losing a quarterback. That's progress.

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