TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown are survivors, aging quarterbacks who keep getting opportunities to prove their worth to NFL teams.
One of them has started 116 games over 13 seasons with seven teams, while the other has 69 career starts spread over 15 years with eight clubs.
Together, that’s 185 starts for nearly half the league, a number that will grow Sunday when Fitzpatrick, one of just four players in league history to throw touchdown passes for seven franchises, makes his first start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6).
Interestingly, career start No. 117 comes against the New York Jets (4-5), his employer the past two seasons.
McCown, a little more than halfway through his first season with the Jets, also is facing one of his former teams.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, who recruited the 34-year-old Fitzpatrick to be Jameis Winston’s backup, marvels at the longevity of both quarterbacks.
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“Those are both great examples. It shows you what a quarterback in the NFL is. There (are) 32 teams and you make up your own number where you think the number is of teams that like their starter, let alone like their backup,” Koetter said.
“Every year media (and) fans, they’ve always got their eye on the next five guys out of college or who is going to be a free agent because every team wants that guy and they’re searching,” Koetter added. “Well, there just isn’t that many of those guys. So guys that are smart, tough (and) can do it pretty (well) can make a great living.”
Fitzpatrick replaces the injured Winston (shoulder), ending the third-year pro’s streak of 40 consecutive starts to begin his career.
McCown, 38, actually played a major role in the Bucs positioning themselves to draft Winston No. 1 overall, going 1-10 as a starter in 2014 — his only season in Tampa Bay, which finished a league-worst 2-14.
It was a year McCown, who’s also played for the Cardinals, Lions, Raiders, Panthers, Bears and Browns, would just as soon forget.
“Well, that was a really rough year,” said McCown, who’s thrown for 1,980 yards and 13 touchdowns vs. seven interceptions this season.
“For me, it’ll be like just another trip. I’ve moved on past that at this point, and obviously I’ve done that with different stops and different places in my career,” McCown added. “I’ve kind of had some practice at it, so it’ll just be another game.”
Fitzpatrick is taking the same approach.
He had the best season of his career two years ago, leading the Jets to 10 wins while throwing for a personal-best 31 TDs. New York entered 2016 with heightened expectations that Fitzpatrick and his teammates were unable to fulfill.
The quarterback contemplated retirement before getting a call from Koetter. He didn’t mind accepting a role behind a young quarterback with a promising future, and he’s had no regrets about staying in the game.
“I think it’s ironic that I move on to another team and the first start that I’m going to have is against the Jets, but I’m excited for the opportunity,” Fitzpatrick said.
“I know there’s the stuff with me, obviously being there the last two years, but more than anything just trying to do my best for this team,” he added. “We’re sitting at 2-6 and disappointed with how this season has gone so far, so just trying to fill in and find a way to get us a win.”
Some things to know about Jets-Bucs:
FOR THE RECORD
Fitzpatrick, who’s thrown TD passes for the Rams, Bengals, Bills, Titans, Texans, Jets and Bucs since entering the league as a seventh-round draft pick in 2005, is 46-69-1 as a starter. McCown is 22-47.
Robby Anderson is making a habit of trips to the end zone.
He has scored in three straight games, making him the first Jets wide receiver to do so since Eric Decker during the 2015 season. Anderson also has nine receptions of more than 20 yards this season, which ranks him fourth in the NFL in that category.
“When you have a guy that can run like Robby can and has the home run ability,” McCown said, “whenever he steps on the field, you have to know where he’s at from a defensive perspective, because you never know what play might be the one that he can make one big play and it’s a touchdown.”
Anderson and Jermaine Kearse have combined for eight TD catches this season, tied for fourth in the league with Dallas’ Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley, and Miami’s Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills.
The Bucs will be without leading receiver Mike Evans, suspended one game by the NFL for his role in a skirmish he entered after Winston came off the sideline to confront New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Evans ran up from behind and knocked the Saints rookie to the ground, and was disciplined for violating league rules on unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness.
SACKS IN BUNCHES
The Jets entered their last game against Buffalo second to last in the NFL with 11 sacks. They got a season-high seven against the Bills, with linebacker Jordan Jenkins sacking Tyrod Taylor twice and winning AFC defensive player of the week honors.
Those seven sacks were the most since they had that many against Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton in last year’s season opener.
The Bucs are last in the league with eight sacks all season.