Fitzpatrick Makes Fine First Impression
Monday, November 28, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

As overnight celebrities go, Rams quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s rise to stardom ranks among one of the fastest in recent memory.

In less than 24 hours, Fitzpatrick went from a rookie best known for what school he went to, to a game-saving hero still known for the fact he attended Harvard, but with the addendum that he was the guy that just engineered one of the most stunning comebacks in recent memory.

After replacing starter Jamie Martin in the second quarter, the seventh-round draft pick threw for 310 yards on 19-of-30 passing with three touchdowns and an interception for a rating of 117.4. In the process, Fitzpatrick rallied the Rams from a 24-3 halftime deficit to a 33-27 overtime victory.

For the kid who a little over a week ago was running the Rams’ scout team, the rise to prominence has been a surprise to just about everyone. Every one that is, except for Fitzpatrick.

“I am sure I will always have some doubters out there,” Fitzpatrick said. “But I have always been convinced of this (playing in the NFL) and today was no shock to me.”

Maybe it wasn’t a surprise to Fitzpatrick, but the rest of the football watching world got an Ivy League answer to the question Who is Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday evening and Monday morning.

Those that rolled out of bed early enough caught Fitzpatrick on ESPN’s Cold Pizza program. For those staying up late, they could see him mentioned time and again by Chris Berman and ESPN’s SportsCenter in myriad highlight shows.For those more inclined to cyber space, Fitzpatrick appeared in Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column as King’s Offensive Player of the Week.

That’s just the beginning. The Rams’ media relations office was deluged with calls from places such as the Baltimore Sun, Arizona Republic and Washington Post, all with requests for a piece of the Rams’ newest star.

But don’t expect the instant fame and celebrity to change the even-keeled, always cool Fitzpatrick.

“He was really cool in the huddle,” receiver Torry Holt said. “I was really impressed by him. Another thing people need to understand about him is he has a swagger about him. He has a great deal of quiet confidence about him which is huge. You might think a guy coming in in that situation, he may rattle and not be sure of himself, but hey, he threw the ball big and we went up and made catches for him. I was really impressed by his effort today.”

Fitzpatrick’s performance was so good that it instantly brought back memories of another former Rams quarterback from a non-traditional football program that put up huge numbers, Kurt Warner.

While it was only one game, a game against the lowly Texans to boot, Fitzpatrick’s performance has to instill confidence in a team that has played musical quarterbacks quite a bit this season. Martin left the game after a blow to the head that blurred his vision.

Martin visited an ophthalmologist Monday afternoon and his status remains up in the air for this week’s game against Washington. Interim coach Joe Vitt refused to discuss the future of the position Monday afternoon, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or Harvard graduate to see that Fitzpatrick should get the start.

In fact, it doesn’t even take a member of the Rams to make that determination.

“I don’t know where they got him from, but he came in and did a good job and that’s even more frustrating,” Houston linebacker Antwan Peek said. “Ryan Fitzpatrick deserves to play next week.

“I didn’t expect him to complete any of his passes, and he came in and was on target. He did a good job as a rookie.”

Fitzpatrick did a good job regardless of age. Although Fitzpatrick said he is one of the few people who believed in his ability, there was another viewer at home certain of the capabilities of the kid.

Coach Mike Martz made no bones about his fondness for Fitzpatrick before the NFL Draft in April. When the opportunity came to grab Fitzpatrick in the seventh round, Martz jumped at it.

The love for Fitzpatrick only grew as time went on.

“Mike said this in training camp,” Vitt said. “Mike thought this was the best young prospect he has ever had. That’s a big statement coming from Mike Martz.”

Indeed. Martz has made a habit of taking little-known guys and turning them into Pro Bowl quarterbacks. Martz is widely regarded as one of the best evaluators of quarterbacks in the league and Fitzpatrick only proved him correct against Houston.

“He called me today and he was all excited,” Vitt said. “He really was. He was very, very proud. A proud father, you know.”

Fitzpatrick’s poise, calmness and cool under fire were on obvious display against the Texans, but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t hurt to have the likes of Isaac Bruce and Holt as your receivers.

Holt and Bruce picked up with Fitzpatrick as though he has been the quarterback for years. Holt finished with 10 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown while Bruce chipped in 94 yards on four grabs.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that throwing to that pair is always a good idea. Of course, Fitzpatrick’s smarts have never been a question.

“These guys are potential Hall of Famers who run meticulous routes, love to play, they are going to finish every route, they are going to stay alive, if that doesn’t excite you as a young quarterback, I don’t know what would,” Vitt said. “Fitz is a smart guy; I think you need more than a valid fishing license to get into Harvard.”

There’s no telling where Fitzpatrick will go from here, but even with this one game, he has taken a place in NFL lore. He is one of five quarterbacks to throw for 300 or more yards in his first NFL game. The others include a mix of signal callers that went on to great things and some that didn’t.

Otto Graham threw for 346 yards in 1950, Ed Rubbert threw for 334 in 1987, Mark Rypien posted 303 in 1988 and Peyton Manning had 302 in 1998. Graham went on to a Hall of Fame career and Manning is well on his way to Canton as well. Obviously, Fitzpatrick has a long way to go to get to that level, but it wasn’t bad for a beginner.

“Mike has made the statement, this is the only quarterback he’s ever coached that he’s never got mad at,” Vitt said. “He just does not make mistakes. He’s got poise and presence, the game is not too big for him. He desperately wants to play. I think he’s the type of guy that plays better than he practices. There were a lot of great quarterbacks in our league that were like that, Joe Montana being one of them. I think he’s the type of guy once he gets in the game it just goes in slow motion for him. He sees the game clock, he knows when to put the guys in motion, he breaks the huddle. He’s great at getting a presnap read. He drops back and puts the ball where it needs to be put. His throws are accurate, their on line with great anticipation. He’s a special guy, he really is.”
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