Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer 323d

Jets versus Ryan Fitzpatrick: The feelings won't be warm and fuzzy

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Ryan Fitzpatrick will be remembered as a player who saved the New York Jets -- or ruined them, depending on which year sticks in your memory, 2015 or 2016.

He was one of their most polarizing players in recent memory, a bearded brainiac who took the Jets on a wild ride, one that thrilled and angered members of the organization. They broke up last January without a hint of remorse from either side, each party looking to move away from the other ... quickly.

The Jets head to Fitzpatrick's new home this weekend, and of course they will face their former quarterback because the Harvard man has an uncanny knack for jumping to the head of the class. Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter Jameis Winston will miss at least two weeks with a shoulder injury, it was announced Monday, setting up one of the best storylines of the year:

Team Bowles versus the Beard.

"Fitz was good when he was here," coach Todd Bowles said. "We're going down to play the Buccaneers, not Fitzpatrick. We're going to prepare like a normal week, go down and try to get a win."

Fitzpatrick inherits a dysfunctional team that has lost five straight, which means he should be in his comfort zone. He has made a career of playing on bad teams, perhaps none worse than the 2016 Jets, who finished 5-11 with a toxic locker room. He once called it the most disappointing season of his career because expectations were so high. He was one of the reasons why.

He was fantastic in 2015, taking over for Geno Smith when the Jets' presumptive starter got punched out by teammate IK Enemkpali. In came Fitzpatrick, who started every game, set the franchise record with 31 touchdown passes and came within one game of the playoffs. He galvanized the team at a time when it could've fractured like Smith's jaw.

So began the adventures of Fitz. His five most memorable moments (not all good):

  • He caught fire at the end of the '15 season, throwing 13 touchdown passes and only one interception over a five-game winning streak. The pinnacle was an overtime touchdown pass to Eric Decker, lifting the Jets to a dramatic win over the New England Patriots.

  • Needing a win in the season finale to clinch a playoff berth, Fitzpatrick imploded in the fourth quarter with three interceptions, as the Jets fell to the injury-ravaged Buffalo Bills. It was one of the most crushing losses in franchise history. It was Fitzpatrick's best (and probably last) chance to make the playoffs for the first time.

  • An unsigned Fitzpatrick and the Jets staged one of the oddest contract disputes ever. He had no interest from other teams, and the Jets had no interest in signing another quarterback, yet it dragged on until the eve of training camp. The dispute, acrimonious at times, chafed feelings on both sides and it set a bad tone for the season.

  • In Week 3 of 2016, Fitzpatrick threw six -- yes, six! -- interceptions in a road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He served 'em up like a hot-dog vendor at the stadium, handing out the last few as if they were freebies. It started a four-game losing streak and, as we found out later, Brandon Marshall and Sheldon Richardson nearly came to blows in the postgame locker room.

  • Fitzpatrick continued to struggle and got benched, albeit briefly. After coming off the bench to rally the team to a win over the Baltimore Ravens -- he replaced Smith, who blew out a knee -- he had the audacity to rip ownership, management and the coaches for not believing in him. It was an unbecoming moment for Fitzpatrick, who kept chucking interceptions (17 in all) until he got benched again later in the season.

And then he was back in the lineup after Bryce Petty wrecked a shoulder.

Fitzpatrick is the quarterback with Nine Lives. Sunday could be the ninth.

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