The 37-year-old Fitzpatrick is in his 15th season and playing for his eighth NFL team, and the Dolphins are still relying on him to lead their offense despite Brian Flores taking some criticism for not going with 2018 first-round draft pick Josh Rosen. The Arizona Cardinals took Rosen with the 10th overall pick last year, and the Dolphins gave up a second-round pick to acquire him this year.
Flores said during his Wednesday press conference Fitzpatrick gives the Dolphins their best chance to win. Miami is 3-8 with Fitzpatrick as the starter, and he’s kept them competitive in games while completing 61.6 percent of his passes for 2,790 yards and 15 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.
He faced the Bengals last season with the Tampa Bay Bucs, replacing Jameis Winston after he threw four interceptions. Fitzpatrick, who spent the 2007 and 2008 seasons with Cincinnati, completed 11 of 15 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns in the 37-34 loss charged to Winston. He was sacked once when Michael Johnson and Jordan Evans got to him.
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“He’s got a streaky arm and he can heat up really quick,” said Dunlap, whose Miami-based Honey Uninhibited restaurant will be offering 15 percent off to anyone in Bengals gear Sunday. “You just don’t want to let him get hot. You want to continue to hit, sack, pressure and contain him because he can run as well. Normally, you don’t think of him as an elusive scrambler, but he’s very crafty in the pocket and getting out of the pocket.”
Dunlap is five sacks shy of the franchise record for career sacks, sitting at 79, just ahead of teammate Geno Atkins, who has 75.5. Dunlap has 6.5 sacks this season, including three in the team’s lone win against the Jets on Dec. 1 and admittedly would like to get the record this year.
“You want to have something come out of this season we’re having,” he said. “That’s something that would make things a little better, but overall, it would just be nice to win these last two games.”
Getting to Fitzpatrick would help accomplish those goals.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor played against Fitzpatrick in college and isn’t surprised he’s stuck around as long as he has.
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“He plays with a lot of confidence, plays with a lot of energy,” Taylor said. “You can tell that his teammates really gravitate toward him. Those are traits that keep you around for a long time, and he’s had production. He’s somebody you respect for the journey he’s been on, and he’s doing some really good things. He’s 37, so he’s older than me. He’s old … he’s really old (laughter). Certainly, you respect players like that, who have impressed the coaching staffs that they’ve been on, and keep finding jobs and keep starting. There’s a reason for all that.”
Fitzpatrick was 4-7-1 in two seasons with the Bengals, backing up Carson Palmer and starting 12 games in his place in 2008. He took a career-high 38 sacks that year and threw eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s been sacked 36 times this season.
Taylor said Fitzpatrick is aggressive in how he gives receivers chances to make plays, but sometimes that means giving the defense a chance, too. He’s thrown 160 interceptions in 154 career games (205 touchdowns).
That’s something the Bengals hope to take advantage of, as they’ve recorded six turnovers in the last six games and continue to stress that area on defense.
“Like any quarterback we face, if they’re going to give you a chance, you have to go make the play,” Taylor said. “That’s something that we’ve stressed over the course of the season, because a direct correlation between winning and losing is creating those turnovers. We can certainly be better in that on defense.”
Bengals at Dolphins, 1 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7