A Rebron QB?
Disrespected Ryan Fitzpatrick fights off the legion of doubt: You can't bury this unwanted QB — or Texans
This was the usual stoic reticence from Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson, another prime example of Johnson stripping the narrative from a thoughtful question and delivering an answer in his routine monotone that left it easy to wonder if everyone was overstating the significance of the redemptive performance delivered by Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Johnson made it a point to not elevate Fitzpatrick above the lot, to dismiss the inference that the Texans valiantly rallied around Fitzpatrick in his first start since an injury to Ryan Mallett offered a sheepish opportunity for Fitzpatrick to regain what he had lost. The Texans' 45-21 dismantling of the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at NRG Stadium was a reflection of exceptional performances up and down the roster, and the Texans' collective effort was more a byproduct of players playing well than players laying anything more on the turf than they would have for anyone else.
But when pressed, Johnson revealed something. If the Texans are to maximize their slim hopes of securing a postseason berth, they will need in December more of what Fitzpatrick gave them on the final day of November.
Fitzpatrick had been relegated to a backup role and nary an observer batted an eyelash in protest.
What Fitzpatrick offered against the Titans bolstered more than his individual glory. It set the stage for the Texans to mount a stretch-run rally knowing their starting quarterback is capable of exceptional showcases.
"It's big," Johnson said. "If you look at the way we practiced this week, he (Fitzpatrick) came in and he just picked up where he left off. Guys were confident in him. It wasn't like, 'Oh, here we go again' or anything like that. We were very confident in him. We knew he could come in and play well for us. He went out and did that today."
That Johnson confessed to some unwavering belief the Texans have in Fitzpatrick served as stark contrast to how those outside that locker room feel regarding Fitzpatrick. No one cried foul when Texans coach Bill O'Brien benched Fitzpatrick following the Texans' 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 2, not after Fitzpatrick completed just 48.2 percent of his attempts and tossed his eighth interception in seven weeks. His passer rating decreased for a third consecutive game, bringing front and center all of the ridicule and resignation that accompanied his signing.
Fitzpatrick had been middling in stops with the Rams, Bengals, Bills and Titans, and he was living down to that reputation with the Texans. O'Brien opting for the uncertainty of Mallett, a fourth-year pro with four passes on his ledger, was met with a damning mix of malaise and acceptance, and that was a denouncement of Fitzpatrick. He had been relegated to a backup role and nary an observer batted an eyelash in protest.
Praise for Fitzpatrick poured in from every corner on Sunday. With Mallett lost for the season following a pectoral injury, Fitzpatrick authored by rating (147.5) the best start of his career. He completed 24 of 33 attempts for 358 yards and a career-best six touchdowns. He was a tad inaccurate early but once he discovered a rhythm, Fitzpatrick was breathtaking. He was dynamic and daring, aggressive and assertive, and after the Texans' offense appeared to perk up two weeks ago when Mallett led the charge to victory in Cleveland, Fitzpatrick maintained that tantalizing momentum.
The why behind his sudden brilliance was more captivating than the how. If there was a consensus opinion, his benching was the primary culprit.
"I think that . . . being able to look at it at a different perspective, take a step back and see it from a different view, I do think it helped a little bit," Fitzpatrick said. "I think that and me going back and evaluating myself, I think those were two factors that helped me out today."
Said O'Brien: "Like I said this week, maybe it helped Fitz to take a step back. You never want to see anybody get hurt like Mallett did, but maybe it helped Fitz to see how the offense was operated and he went in there and did a good job."
A New Ryan Fitzpatrick?
There were promising tidbits sprinkled throughout his stat line. Fitzpatrick did not take a sack, he completed his touchdowns to five different receivers, and he took full advantage of the emergent DeAndre Hopkins. It was Hopkins who bailed out Fitzpatrick early by scooping up a couple low throws off the NRG Stadium turf to keep the chains moving. Once Fitzpatrick zeroed in, Hopkins proved to be the beneficiary of his accuracy.
Fitzpatrick completed all nine of his targets to Hopkins, helping Hopkins record single-game standards in receptions (nine), receiving yards (238) and touchdowns (two). Whether via a beautifully delivered, 58-yard strike on a post pattern or a 34-yard back-shoulder toss that exploited Hopkins' exceptional hands and dexterity, Fitzpatrick helped direct Hopkins' coming-out party.
For Hopkins, this showcase seemed like a long time coming.
That Fitzpatrick flashed his potential and proved just how high his ceiling can rise on any given Sunday whet the appetites of the dubious and the dedicated.
"In the offseason, me and Fitz had a great connection coming into the season, and we knew if we could get on track, then things were going to be good," Hopkins said. "And we picked up on that today."
That it required of Fitzpatrick a circuitous route to bring his union with Hopkins to fruition was immaterial on Sunday. Fitzpatrick showed the Texans his very best and rekindled dwindling enthusiasm with just four games remaining in the regular season.
That Fitzpatrick flashed his potential and proved just how high his ceiling can rise on any given Sunday whet the appetites of the dubious and the dedicated. Fitzpatrick under center just might pay dividends for the Texans, and given their response to his extraordinary afternoon, the quarterback has his fair share of supporters.
"We love Fitz," said Texans left tackle Duane Brown, who engulfed Fitzpatrick with an impromptu bear hug following his first scoring strike to Hopkins. "Everything he's gone through, we've been right there with him. When this week came, he was inserted back into that starting role. We had no doubt in our mind that he was going to come out and perform. I didn't know he was going to come out and have a six-touchdown day.
"He prepared so well this week, we prepared well as an (offensive) line and tried to do everything we can to give him time to operate back there and these are the results. And we just have to keep doing this week in and week out."