TAMPA — It’s too late to reverse the curse of Ryan Fitzpatrick, which has officially befallen the Bucs.
Wherever Fitzpatrick shows up, the starting quarterback will go down. Fitzpatrick will get to experience the joy of hex again Sunday against his former Jets team when he plays in place of injured starter Jameis Winston, who has been shut down for at least two weeks with a right shoulder sprain.
"It’s crazy that it’s happened pretty much wherever I have been, but you know, last year (with the Jets) was a crazy year as well," Fitzpatrick said Thursday. "I got benched a few times but had to go back in the lineup because of injury. It seems to happen over and over again, but obviously, just some crazy coincidence."
Fitzpatrick has played for seven teams during an outstanding 13-year career. But 13 isn’t the only season that has been unlucky for his teammates.
Remarkably, Fitzpatrick has played at least half of his team’s games for nine straight seasons. By comparison, consider the only other quarterbacks who have done that: Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan.
It began during his rookie year with the St. Louis Rams when he entered the lineup after Marc Bulger sustained a shoulder injury. The jinx has followed Fitzpatrick to every team he has played for. In 2005, the Bengals’ Carson Palmer (elbow) missed 12 games. In ’09, the Bills’ Trent Edwards (concussion) missed half the season. Jake Locker had a foot injury with the Titans in ’13. The next year, Ryan Mallett had a pectoral muscle injury with the Texans.
It really got weird his past two seasons with the Jets. Geno Smith got punched in the face by a teammate and Fitzpatrick led them to a 10-6 record, narrowly missing the playoffs. After being benched last season, he was forced to return as the starter when Smith (knee) and Bryce Petty (shoulder) went down.
Fitzpatrick said he thought seriously about retirement after last season before signing with the Bucs, saying he wasn’t sure he did the right thing until five weeks into the season.
"I was pretty close (to retiring), which was a really hard thing for me just because I enjoy playing so much, I enjoy being around it so much," he said. "So I got a call from (Bucs coach) Dirk (Koetter), and we talked, and I ended up signing here.
"And really, I don’t think it was until I was in that Arizona game (Oct. 15) in the second half playing (after Winston got hurt) that I maybe realized how much I would’ve missed it if I didn’t play. That was probably the moment, if you’re looking for one, of me being reassured I made the right decision."
Fitzpatrick entered in the second quarter with the Bucs trailing 24-0. With his family and friends at the game, he passed for 290 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions, in a 38-33 loss.
Fitzpatrick took over Sunday in the second half of a 30-10 loss to the Saints after Winston was forced to leave following another hit on his shoulder.
Fitzpatrick will make his first start with the Bucs — and his 117th overall — against the Jets. What’s more, it will come against Josh McCown, a quarterback who shares with him nomadic traits, having played for seven teams, including the Bucs.
"There’s a reason (Fitzpatrick and McCown have) been kept around so long. Because one, they’re fantastic football players," Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. "I mean, you play that long in the NFL at the highest level and get paid what you get paid, those guys are great football players. And it’s fun to see when those guys get opportunities and play well, like Ryan has, and so has Josh."
"Fitzmagic," as he was known in New York, still has some tricks left. And maybe a little black magic as well.