Ravens head coach John Harbaugh on keeping running back Kenneth Dixon and the next opponent the Dolphins.
The Ravens have been preparing for their season opener since late in the preseason, maybe even earlier. They’ve known about Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins since April. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale joked last week that in August, his players amounted to “wooden Indians out there,” as dull as they’d be all season.
But the Ravens probably didn’t expect to have Ryan Fitzpatrick awaiting them Sunday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium. The Fitzmagic couldn’t last another year ... could it?
Even with 2018 first-round pick Josh Rosen in Miami after a mid-draft trade with the Arizona Cardinals, first-year Dolphins coach Brian Flores last week named Fitzpatrick the team’s Week 1 starter. It’ll be the eighth team that the 36-year-old journeyman has played for in 15 NFL seasons.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson hasn’t even started eight games in his career.
"Well, he’s always played well against us, I think, if you go back and look at it. So we have nothing but respect for Ryan Fitzpatrick,” coach John Harbaugh said at a Monday news conference, the team’s first since roster cuts. “I mean, he’s been good. He’s proven. He’s had a lot of big games. He opened up the season last year with a couple of 400-yard passing games. He’s a little bit of a swashbuckler, I would say. He’s not afraid to throw it in there and run around, and he tries to make plays.”
In Fitzpatrick’s first game against the Ravens, he didn’t play. But neither did Joe Flacco — he was still at Delaware. It was September 2007, and the Ravens were starting Steve McNair in coach Brian Billick's final season. Fitzpatrick didn't see a snap as the Carson Palmer-led Cincinnati Bengals won at home, 27-20.
His next three appearances against the Ravens covered nine years, but each got a little better than the last. In 2008, he went 12-for-31 for 124 yards as the Ravens stomped the host Bengals, 34-3. Two years later, Fitzpatrick passed for 382 yards and four touchdowns and posted a 106.9 passer rating for the Buffalo Bills in a 37-34 loss in Baltimore. In 2016, with the New York Jets, Fitzpatrick attempted only 14 passes and had just 120 yards (115.2 rating), but it was enough for a 24-16 win.
“Obviously, when you get a veteran quarterback like Fitzpatrick, who they named the starter, he’s been in this league a long time, and he’s done a bunch of great things,” safety Tony Jefferson said.
Ravens' Tony Jefferson on the play of linebacker Patrick Onwuasor and his connection with safety Earl Thomas.
“Obviously, he’s known for being able to throw the ball deep and make big plays. So when you pair him up with a coach and a system that comes from the Patriots’ system, obviously, that’s going to impose some challenges there. But I think for the most part, I think we’re just going to work on our game plan and executing proper technique and see where the game takes us.”
Fitzpatrick’s production last season belied his 2-5 record with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He set career highs in completion percentage (.667), yards per attempt (9.6) and passing yards per game (295.8), finishing the season with 2,366 yards, 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But in March, after the Dolphins traded away starter Ryan Tannehill, Fitzpatrick signed a two-year deal with Miami.
The bushy-bearded Harvard graduate became a punch line: There was no better quarterback, critics said, to oversee a team in need of tanking. Predictably, the Dolphins’ moves this weekend lived down to expectations, doing little to protect Fitzpatrick from the threat of the Ravens’ reigning top-ranked defense.
After trading left tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills and two late-round picks to the Houston Texans for two first-round picks and a second-rounder, Miami will likely either move right tackle Jesse Davis to left tackle, where he’s rarely practiced, or start Julién Davenport, one of two players the Dolphins acquired in the deal. According to Pro Football Focus, Davenport ranked first in penalties (16) and second in sacks allowed (12) among tackles last season.
All of which could make for an early exit Sunday, even with questions about the Ravens’ pass rush. Last season, the Ravens faced then-Bills starter Nathan Peterman, another quarterback of morbid fascination, at home in Week 1. He went 5-for-18 for 24 yards and threw two interceptions before Buffalo turned to rookie Josh Allen under center.
With the Dolphins’ offseason makeover, Harbaugh acknowledged that the Ravens “don’t really know what to expect” from Sunday’s season opener. That starts with Fitzpatrick — even if it might end with Rosen.
“Every single play, he tries to make a play out of it,” Harbaugh said. “And a lot of times, he does. Sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he hurts 'em. We’re hoping we’re able to cause that and do some damage that way. But we have a lot of respect for him. He’s a great pro, and [I’m] not at all surprised that they chose him to be the starting quarterback."