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Ryan Fitzpatrick: The Fitz Difference

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Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Fitzpatrick is enjoying a career year at age 33. What has been so different about his play this season?

One of the interesting things about Fitzpatrick's career is there have been signs of steady growth during his eleven years in the league. You can break his career into three (unequal) segments.

Ages Completion % Yards per Attempt TD % INT % Rating
23 through 28 57.8 6 3.7 3.6 73
29 through 31 61.5 6.8 4.4 3.6 81.3
32 through 33 61.6 7.4 5.5 2.4 92.7

What is impressive here is there is some evidence Fitzpatrick might be a late bloomer. We hear plenty about a guy like Alex Smith who took years to develop into an adequate quarterback, but Smith was a big-time outlier. Usually when a player shows so little in his young days, he does not amount to anything as a passer.

Fitzpatrick's play started to pick up around age 29 in Buffalo under Chan Gailey. The low 60% range for completions and around 7 yards per attempt are ballpark thresholds for credible play. Fitzpatrick started hitting those.

Over the last two years, what really sticks out is the drop in interceptions. A drop of 1.2% might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Kyle Boller's career interception rate was 3.6%. Matt Ryan's is 2.4%.

The drop in interception rate is especially important because Fitzpatrick's efficiency (in terms of completion percentage and yards per attempt) is still not earth-shattering. If you don't turn the ball over as much, you can get away with not making as many big plays. Turn it over a lot, and you have to make more big plays to make up for the mistakes. The drop in interceptions has turned Fitzpatrick from a stopgap type of guy into a quality starter.

Leodis McKelvin of the Bills said this yesterday.

That might not be true anymore.

A lot of people said before the season the Jets knew what they had in Fitzpatrick. A guy with a decade of NFL experience was not going to get better. To be honest, it was a very valid point. You shouldn't be ridiculed if you said that. You had every reason to say that. It is very uncommon for a player to show such drastic improvement in his career. It does happen from time to time, though.

Looking at Fitzpatrick's career trajectory, it seems like there was a real upswing, and that year he had with the Texans which many of us wrote off as a statistical fluke might have contained signs he was about to grow further.