By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
On Monday, the Miami Dolphins announced Ryan Fitzpatrick will be their starting quarterback Week 1 against the Patriots. When he takes the field, he’ll be starting his 13th career game against the Bill Belichick-led Patriots. Only Peyton Manning (20) has made more.
Familiarity can be a dangerous thing in the NFL. Just look at divisional football games. Even when the two teams should, in theory, be mismatched, they more often then not end up as close contests. When the two sides are so well-versed in the personnel, playbook, and tendencies of the other side, things can get unpredictable.
Miami enters Sunday’s game with a former trusted Belichick assistant as their head coach, and former Patriots as three of their eight captains. Still, it’s Fitzpatrick that can play the role of wild card, according to Bill Belichick.
“He’s a little unpredictable,” Belichick told reporters on Monday. “So that just makes it a little more difficult to defend because of his versatility and his ability with confidence attack weaknesses that the defense presents.”
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Patriots fans should know exactly what Belichick is talking about. ‘Fitzmagic’ hit them full force last year, when the Dolphins QB torched the top-ranked Pats defense for 320 yards and two total touchdowns in Week 17, denying New England a first-round playoff bye for the first time in a decade.
“He’s a tough competitor. He’s a tough guy to tackle. He’s got good quickness and can stay in a pocket, hard to bring down,” Belichick said. “He’s also an excellent game manager and passer, you know, we certainly saw plenty of that last year from him.”
Playing aggressive was key for the Patriots defense last season, but it worked against them in that game. Don’t think Belichick has forgotten either. “You have to be careful of overplaying him because he’ll do things that, he’ll take advantage of those situations where overplay him in one way or another,” the Patriots head coach noted.
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“Ryan’s a smart player, a very experienced player and a very instinctive player,” Belichick continued. “He does things on the field that are done through instinct and experience and confidence.”
While Fitzpatrick has been considered a borderline starter for most of his career, often stuck in season-long battles for starting jobs, Belichick knows stopping him Sunday will be no easy task. The Harvard grad tends to be at his best when his back is against the wall and he’s in danger of being moved to the bench.
That will be the situation all season with fifth overall pick Tua Tagovailoa waiting in the wings – so expect plenty of Fitzmagic at Gillette Stadium this weekend. It’ll be up to Belichick to use what he learned last year, and the 12 previous starts, to contain it.
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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.