Sucker punch gives Ryan Fitzpatrick unexpected shot to be Jets' starter

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Ryan Fitzpatrick was all but resigned to beginning the regular season as the New York Jets' No. 2 quarterback. One punch later, the 32-year-old journeyman is a starter again -- and he could keep the job for the remainder of the season.

Coach Todd Bowles made it clear Tuesday there's no guarantee Smith will be handed the starting job when he returns in six to 10 weeks from his broken jaw.

"If the other guy is playing well," Bowles said, "and the boat is going right and there are no waves and everything is going and we're 4, 5, 6, 7-0, yeah, you're not coming back to start."

Amid their locker room turmoil, the Jets could have a quarterback controversy in the near future.

Fitzpatrick, acquired in an offseason trade with the Houston Texans, has four weeks to prepare for the season. Until Tuesday, he hadn't taken any reps with the starting offense. The Jets were grooming Smith for the job, but that changed in an instant, when the presumptive starter was punched in the face by now-former teammate IK Enemkpali.

Fitzpatrick, who will start the preseason opener Thursday night, said he did more sweating than usual in practice.

"If I didn't have confidence in myself, I wouldn't be standing in front of you guys," he told reporters after practice. "I'd be on a vacation with my five kids, sailing off into the sunset with a career nobody thought I would've had.

"For me, I'm not satisfied with what I've done. There's so much more I want to improve upon."

Fitzpatrick has a 33-55-1 record as a starter, having started for five teams. He played reasonably well last season for the Texans (a 95 passer rating in 12 starts), but he suffered a broken leg in December.

The upside for the Jets is that Fitzpatrick already knows Chan Gailey's system; they were together for three seasons with the Buffalo Bills. That, Fitzpatrick said, will be helpful.

Earlier Tuesday, before the Smith-Enemkpali incident surfaced, Gailey spoke highly of Fitzpatrick, saying he'd be confident if he had to turn to Fitzpatrick.

"No question about it," Gailey said. "That's from prior knowledge as well as present day."

The problem is, Fitzpatrick had been taking a minimal amount of reps in practice, none with the starters. It means he has yet to development any on-field chemistry with the Jets' receivers.

"I've seen a lot of things and I've experienced a lot of things," he said. "I feel like I've gotten better every year.

"I didn't know if I'd ever find myself in a position to start again," Fitzpatrick added. "I understand these opportunities are few and far between and I understand my opportunities in this league might be somewhat limited now. I've got to take advantage of every day."

Bowles professed his faith in Fitzpatrick, as did a few veteran leaders -- those that were made available to speak to the media.

"We believe in him, we trust in him," guard Willie Colon said.

The Jets are looking to sign a veteran backup because the current No. 2 is rookie Bryce Petty, a fourth-round pick who has struggled in camp. They reportedly have reached out to free agents Rex Grossman and Tyler Thigpen.

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