In the NFL, defenses treat backup quarterbacks the way kids often treat substitute teachers. There’s often a certain amount of excitement — oh, so-and-so is starting? Time to pad my stats! — that borders on disrespect, depending on the quarterback.
But the Chiefs know they better not take that approach into their noon Sunday game against Tennessee and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is filling in for injured starter Jake Locker.
“He’s not a regular backup quarterback,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said.
Johnson would know. He has been a part of teams that have lost to Fitzpatrick, a 30-year old former Bills quarterback who is 4-1 against the Chiefs since 2008, completing 57 percent of his passes for 824 yards and eight touchdowns with only two interceptions.
“I can’t tell you why he had success (against us), but he’s a good quarterback — he’s a got a strong arm, he can make all the throws and he’s not scared to make all the throws,” said cornerback Brandon Flowers, who has been with the Chiefs since 2008. “If he thinks it’s there, he’ll go after it.”
Fitzpatrick only led the Bills to a 19-31 record as a starter from 2009-12, but he completed 59.8 percent of his passes while throwing 80 touchdowns and compiling three 3,000-yard seasons.
He may be a downgrade from the 25-year-old Locker, a former first-round pick who completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 721 yards and six touchdowns before suffering a hip injury against the Jets last Sunday. But Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said he doesn’t expect the Titans’ game plan to change much.
“I think Ryan is probably not as fast as Jake was, but he has all the mobility that you want,” Sutton said. “That part I don’t really see changing. I’m sure there are particular plays or throws in their offense that he likes better than the other guy at this point, but I don’t think we’d notice a big difference and we’re not anticipating a huge difference.”
Reid said Fitzpatrick’s intelligence — he graduated from Harvard — also makes him a threat.
“I don’t think you’re going to trick him,” Reid said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. He’s a smart cookie.”
Fitzpatrick, however, is far from a perfect quarterback. During his last three years as Buffalo’s starter, one very grisly statistic — 77 total turnovers — haunted him.
Fitzpatrick threw 64 interceptions and fumbled 26 times in 55 games with Buffalo, an average of nearly two per game. The undefeated Chiefs are tied for the league lead with the Titans in turnover margin at plus-nine.
“Hopefully we can keep (the Chiefs’ defense) off of (Fitzpatrick) and he won’t have to as much about all of that,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “I think he realizes that we have a group that’s playing well like they are (and) that the ball has to come out on time. That’s probably something where he has an advantage to being an experienced quarterback, which he can hopefully diagnose things quicker and the ball is out of his hands a little faster than Jake.”
The Chiefs are also tied for the league lead in sacks, which means it would help the Titans to take an early lead and avoid predictable passing situations.
“You want to stay in the game — you don’t want to get behind like other teams have to where all of a sudden they can tee off. Then you get one-dimensional,” Munchak said. “These guys have had a lot of success in the first quarter of the season getting after the quarterback and creating problems.”
But the Chiefs, including safety Eric Berry, don’t expect Fitzpatrick to get rattled.
“He’s one of those guys that wants to shows what he’s got, that he still has it,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to take it for granted.”