Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick started against the Eagles for the first time in his career on December 18, 2005 as a rookie quarterback for the St. Louis Rams. In a 17-16 loss, Fitzpatrick completed 10 of 24 passes for 69 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
“I remember I was terrible in that game,” Fitzpatrick told Philadelphia reporters in a conference call on Wednesday. “I know we lost, but I don’t remember a whole lot of those details.”
Fast forward 13 years and six teams later and Fitzpatrick, the only remaining active player from that game, will start against the Eagles once again this Sunday as a member of the Buccaneers.
It will be a battle of two journeymen quarterbacks, both currently serving as backups for their respective teams, when Fitzpatrick faces Eagles quarterback Nick Foles in Tampa on Sunday. The two have seen similar roads and roadblocks in their careers.
After being drafted by St. Louis in the seventh round of the 2005 draft out of Harvard, Fitzpatrick spent two years with the Rams, two with the Bengals, four with the Bills, one with the Titans, one with the Texans, two with the Jets, and is now in his second season with the Buccaneers. He’s played in 134 games, starting 120 of them, with 27,408 total yards, 177 touchdowns, and a completion rate of 59.8 percent.
He’s been around the block once or twice.
“Well, I’ve really experienced some huge things, and I’ve really changed as a quarterback,” said Fitzpatrick, who has a career record of 49-70-1. “Even though I had five years before I was with (head coach) Chan Gailey in Buffalo, my career, at least in my eyes, really started then, when I got when Chan, got out there, and got to be a starter for three years. From then on, just that experience and him giving me a shot and all that, the experience I gained was probably the most important thing.”
Last week, Fitzpatrick’s experience was on full display as he led the young Buccaneers offense, finishing 21-of-28 passing for 417 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, to knock off the 2017 NFC South champion New Orleans Saints 48-40 on the road. Fitzpatrick, who earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, will start the next two games for Tampa Bay as quarterback Jameis Winston serves his suspension.
Fitzpatrick has found ways to contribute on each of his teams as he's bounced around the league. But that's not an easy task.
“As a quarterback, and in general too, confidence is a big thing,” Fitzpatrick said. “Knowing that last week, I’m not going to get too high on my performance and when you have a bad one, you can’t get too low. But it’s about having confidence in yourself and making sure guys around you in the huddle have confidence in you.”
Foles too can be considered a journeyman even though he is now possibly the most well-known backup quarterback in the NFL. After being traded by the Eagles in 2015, Foles played for the Rams, considered quitting football after being cut, came back to play for the Chiefs, and then signed with the Eagles as a free agent in 2017 when he’d go on to fill in for quarterback Carson Wentz and become the Super Bowl MVP.
Foles echoed Fitzpatrick’s sentiments when he met with the media on Wednesday. He said staying confident is a major challenge for someone bouncing around from team to team. Confidence is not something that a player can attain one day and hold onto forever.
“Day to day, there are struggles,” Foles said. “I think people look at us like professional athletes and think we don’t deal with that, but we do. And when Fitz says that, I think it’s awesome that he’s being as honest as he is because, I’ll be honest, we do struggle, you do lose your confidence at times, but you need to learn how to get it back.”
Fitzpatrick and Foles will face off Sunday at 1 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa as both continue to fill in for their teams until their starting quarterbacks return. While it will be a competitive battle with consequential results on the line, a mutual respect between the two sides will surely be present.
“I think that that’s a testament to a guy that goes and grinds it out,” Foles said. “It’s not easy to go to another team and build relationships with new guys and then go play and play at a high level and Fitz has done an amazing job at doing that throughout his career. And I think young players, players in high school, players in college, even players in the NFL can look up to a guy like that.
“Every player dreams of playing for one team for their entire career. When I was drafted, I dreamed of being an Eagle my whole life and that didn’t happen. But you just have to keep grinding ... he’s a testament of someone who has continued to work, continued to impact the locker room and then, when you get this opportunity to play, he does some special things. He’s a great dude and it’s pretty awesome to see him having success.”