By Jake Arians
The Miami Dolphins are relevant and playing well in 2020. They are coming off an absolute destruction of the San Francisco 49ers in a 43-17 win Sunday. They are now 9.5 point favorites this week against NFC East rival the New York Jets. The main reason for this relevance is the play of Ryan “Fitzmagic” Fitzpatrick.
This all started in 2019, where Fitzpatrick played well but finished on a very high note winning in New England in Week 17. He was named the Dolphins’ MVP for his play in 2019. That play has not only continued to 2020, but it has increased to an even higher level. This Dolphins team plays extremely hard for head coach Brian Flores, and for the most part, are playing above their talent level for a few reasons.
Miami added a lot of talented pieces this offseason, but we haven’t seen them all healthy on the field together. Even with the injuries, the Dolphins still have found ways to play well without these new additions. Mainly because they are a well-coached team, and this shows up almost every Sunday. The leader of this team, however, and the biggest reason for their solid play, is Fitzpatrick.
This Dolphins team feeds his intensity and enthusiasm. His demeanor on the field is almost childlike in how much he just loves to play the game. It allows him to play loose and free, and it also allows his teammates to play in that same way. The rest of Miami’s roster knows Fitzpatrick will do anything it takes to win, and you can tell they believe him and this mentality. However, this doesn’t scratch the surface of what he does at quarterback.
Fitzpatrick had two of his best seasons under new Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey with the 2011 Buffalo Bills and 2015 New York Jets. Now in their third AFC East stop together, Fitzpatrick has a total mastery of what Gailey wants to do with this offense. He has a coordinator that knows and believes in him—and vice versa. It is this mastery of the offense, and being their coach on the field that is the driving force of the Dolphins’ recent success. Fitzpatrick always has the rest of the offense in the right play; it’s easy to say, but it’s an extremely overlooked aspect of playing the quarterback position. It’s more about what is going on between a players’ ears than anything else. With 15 years of experience and his reunion with Gailey, Fitzpatrick is playing at a higher level than ever.
Fitzpatrick has a completion percentage of 70.6%, which is a career-high by almost 5%, and a quarterback rating of 95.3; it’s the second-highest in his career. In the Week 5 victory, Fitzpatrick was 22-of-28 passing for 350 yards and three touchdowns. I won’t bore you with stats, because what Fitzpatrick does for this team is so much deeper than the box score.
After the Dolphins’ matchup with the lowly Jets on Sunday, their schedule sets up nicely with five winnable games out of their next six. If Miami can continue this relevance and hover around .500 then its fans shouldn’t even talk about the elephant in the room, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins selected Tagovailoa in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft as their future, but his time is not now and may not be in 2020 at all. This team should be very talented in the future when it is Tagovailoa time. The Dolphins need another offseason of adding pieces, similar to this year, to be where they want to be. But winning is the name of the game and their current quarterback is giving them that chance.
Fitzpatrick isn’t playing perfect, but he is keeping Miami relevant and unquestionably gives the team its best chance to win now, which is saying something compared to how most people thought this team would play in 2020. Fitzpatrick’s 15-year career has been a progression and a bit of a roller coaster, but he is playing the best he ever has. He could very well be playing for his eighth different team in 2021 when Tagovailoa takes over as the franchise quarterback.
Fitzpatrick seems to be getting better with age and experience, and he looks far from being done to me. We should all take notice and have some appreciation of how well Fitzmagic is playing and the youthful exuberance he is doing it with.