EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — An NFL reeling from tragedies of its own making — ones produced by some of its muscular marvels heartlessly hitting and terrorizing women and children — felt the effects of a tragedy beyond its control Sunday morning. As word filtered around the league about the single car crash accident death of longtime kicker Rob Bironas at the heartbreaking age of 36, it left reverberations in many locker rooms.
Houston Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick certainly felt it.
A teammate of Bironas last year in Tennessee, Fitzpatrick would open his postgame press conference hours later with some heartfelt words about the dead kicker, ex teammate and new husband. Fitzpatrick called Bironas "a great guy" and noted how "everybody in the locker room loved him." He sent his condolences to Bironas' wife Rachel Bradshaw, the daughter of Pittsburgh Steelers legend and Fox commentator Terry Bradshaw.
In between finding out that Bironas had died and expressing his sadness, Ryan Fitzpatrick played a football game.
And he didn't do it very well. Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions — and he needed some breaks not to throw two more. Midway through the second quarter, he was sitting on a 6.2 quarterback rating. Fitzpatrick's the biggest reason Bill O'Brien's surprising Texans are no longer undefeated or as surprising. The coach's QB choice couldn't have gift wrapped this 30-17 New York Giants victory any better than the pros at the mammoth Macy's across the river.
It is a resounding reminder that there are some things you can't come back from. And throwing three interceptions isn't close to one of them.
No one's saying Ryan Fitzpatrick played a bad game because he was shaken by Rob Bironas' death. The Bearded One himself would be the last one to suggest such a thing. Uncle Fitz doesn't do excuses in general. And he'd certainly never trivialize this real car crash horror by tying it to a football game.
The too-soon death does bring home the point that these guys are only human though.
You never know what's affecting them in any single game. In truth, no one ever wondered if the very ordinary Fitzpatrick is human. But even he deserves to be excused for an occasional clunker. That's all this road loss to a desperate, proud Giants team is. A solitary dud.
"No one's going woe is me," veteran receiver Andre Johnson says in Met Life Stadium's unusually large visitors locker room. "No one in this locker room is thinking it's like last year all over again. There's none of that."
This loss doesn't mean the Texans are exposed. It doesn't mean that they're doomed to a new parade of frustrating Sundays. And it certainly doesn't mean the Texans need to consider a quarterback change.
Ryan Mallett Ridiculousness
The idea of benching Fitzpatrick for Bill Belichick reject Ryan Mallett is silly at this point. Yet it hung in the gloomy, overcast air at Met Life Stadium for much of Sunday afternoon. Mallett even took several warmup throws on the sidelines late in the second quarter. Whether that was Mallett's own doing or prompted by a Texans coach is uncertain.
Mallett never got to play quarterback on a day when punter Shane Lechler did though. And that's a good thing.
For Fitzpatrick came back to complete eight of nine passes for 125 yards in the third quarter, including a beautiful 44-yard bomb to Damaris Johnson. That punctuated a run in which the Texans pulled back within 17-10, no small feat considering they looked capable of getting blown out the way Tampa Bay was in Atlanta for the first two hours of this game.
It couldn't last. Not without Arian Foster, the running back whose legs all of O'Brien's plans depend on the way a baby depends on his mother. When Foster — whose hurting hamstring is the most important tendon in all of Houston — is sidelined, the Texans have no chance. It's no real surprise that Fitzpatrick looks worse playing without Foster than Case Keenum looked playing without Foster last season.
No non-superstar quarterback's going to look anything but awful with this Texans team when No. 23 is out. (That guy who wrote about how underpaid Foster is last week looks like some kind of genius.)
There's no magic in Fitz, never was. "We're not going to win any games when I play like that," the quarterback says himself.
I n between finding out that Bironas had died and expressing his sadness, Ryan Fitzpatrick played a football game.
These Texans — as flawed as they are — can win plenty of games with Foster back and O'Brien continuing to be a daring play caller though. That much is clear even before the sun breaks through the clouds late in the third quarter in New Jersey.
"We got some things going in the passing game," says DeAndre Hopkins, the second-year receiver who keeps showing more and more big play ability. "I think that's something we can build on."
Fitzpatrick hears about the death of a friend Sunday morning. He plays a dud of a football game early Sunday afternoon. Unrelated as those two things may be, it is a resounding reminder that there are some things you can't come back from. And throwing three interceptions isn't close to one of them.
Ryan Fitzpatrick's entitled to an off day now and then. Let's table any absurd Ryan Mallett talk.
"Like I always say, you know, the sun will come up tomorrow," O'Brien says.
If you're one of the lucky ones.