The New England Patriots are no strangers when it comes to going up against Ryan Fitzpatrick. The veteran quarterback, who will lead the Miami Dolphins into Sunday’s season opener, will start his 13th game versus New England on Sunday. Only Peyton Manning has started more games at QB against the Patriots over the last two decades.
Fitzpatrick’s success versus the team has been limited, however. His teams came away victoriously just three times versus New England. Along the way, the former seventh-round draft choice completed 277 of 450 pass attempts for 3,444 yards as well as 21 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. That said, the Patriots know very well that he can be capable of stringing enough positive plays together to put Miami in a position to win.
“Ryan’s a smart player very experienced player and a very instinctive player,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said during a media conference call earlier this week. “He does things on the field that are done through instinct and experience and confidence. Every situation is a little bit different. You have to be careful on kind of overplaying him because he’ll do things that, he’ll take advantage of those situations where you overplay him in one way or another.”
You do not have to go back far to find the Patriots struggling to defend Fitzpatrick. When the two teams met during last year’s regular season finale, the veteran completed 28 of 41 passes for 320 yards and one touchdown while leading the Dolphins to a 27-24 upset win at Gillette Stadium. While both teams have obviously changed since then, the Patriots know they cannot sleep on the 37-year-old’s abilities to lead the Miami attack.
This is especially true because of his familiarity with new coordinator Chan Gailey, who was hired this offseason and previously worked with Fitzpatrick in both New York and Buffalo.
“He’s certainly has a great grasp of coach Gailey’s system, for the amount of time that they’ve worked togetherI’m sure that he can go in and out of things that they need to do to take advantage of defensive weaknesses and opportunities and things like that,” said Belichick.
“He’s, a tough competitor. He’s a tough guy to tackle. He’s got good quickness and can stay in a pocket, hard to bring down. He’s also an excellent game manager and passer, you know, we certainly saw plenty of that last year from him. We have a lot of respect for what he can do and how well he’s done it and, and can still do it. He’s a little unpredictable, so that just makes it a little more difficult to defend because of its versatility and his ability with confidence attack weaknesses that the defense presents.”
Belichick was obviously not the only Patriot to talk about Fitzpatrick this week. One of his former teammates also spoke about him: cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who arrived in the league as a first round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2012 — Fitzpatrick’s final season with the club before leaving for Houston the following year (and also Gailey’s last as Bills head coach).
“He’s a smart guy, he’s seen a lot of football. He’s been in the league for a long time, and he’s a gunslinger,” said Gilmore about his former teammate while touching a key aspect of FItzpatrick’s game: his willingness to sling it.
“He’s going to throw it no matter if someone’s open, no matter if they are not open, he’s going to give his guys a chance to make a play for the ball. He’s been in the league for a long time for a reason. He made a lot of good plays, and I’m looking forward to the matchup. [...] He’s a great quarterback, he’s made a lot of great throws in this league, and he’s been in a lot of places. He’s consistently made plays. He gives his players a lot of opportunities, he gives us a lot of opportunities.”
While Gilmore and the rest of the Patriots defense were not able to take advantage of those opportunities in Week 17 last season, they did during the two teams’ first meeting in September: in Week 2, Fitzpatrick completed 11 of 21 pass attempts for just 89 yards and three interceptions as the team was blown out 43-0. Two of his picks were returned for touchdown, with Gilmore being responsible for one of them.
The NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year knows that plays like that one will decide the outcome of Sunday’s game as well.
“At the end of the day it goes down to who made the most plays.”