FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Fitz Magic fizzled, so it’s Geno Smith’s turn — again.
The New York Jets will start Smith at quarterback Sunday against Baltimore at MetLife Stadium, sending Ryan Fitzpatrick and his one-year, $12 million contract to the sideline.
“I felt like it was time for a change,” coach Todd Bowles said after practice Wednesday.
At the NFL fall meetings in Houston, Jets owner Woody Johnson said it was Bowles’ call to go with Smith, with the Jets sinking at 1-5 and on a four-game losing streak. Bowles confirmed that it was “strictly my call.”
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“I am behind the coach 100 percent,” Johnson said. “Our coach made the decision he felt needed to be made.”
Fitzpatrick has been a major reason for the Jets’ struggles, throwing an NFL-leading 11 interceptions and just five touchdown passes during a brutal start.
“I mean, I don’t like it,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m disappointed that we’re making the change, but disappointed in my play this year, as well.
“The competitor in me really wants to be out there. The guy who was the leader of this team last year and the beginning of this year wants to be out there, but it’s a decision that Todd made. I’ve got to respect his decision, but I don’t have to like it.”
After the Jets lost 28-3 at Arizona on Monday night, Bowles said Fitzpatrick would remain the starter. He backtracked a bit Tuesday during a conference call , saying it’s always “status quo” right after games and he wanted to discuss things with his staff and general manager Mike Maccagnan that night. During those meetings, Bowles decided to go with Smith.
“Geno’s our starter right now,” Bowles said. “We’ll see how things go down the line.”
Bowles added that it’s possible the Jets could turn to Fitzpatrick again at some point.
“I can only go week to week,” the coach said.
Smith was the Jets’ starter last summer until his jaw was broken by a punch from then-teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali during training camp.
“I think the person who benefited the most from this last year and a half has been Geno,” wide receiver Brandon Marshall said. “It’s been amazing to see this guy grow and really, you know, punch adversity in the face.”
Fitzpatrick took over last summer and went on to throw a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes and get within a win of the playoffs at 10-6.
After garnering little interest in the free-agent market, Fitzpatrick re-signed with the Jets on the eve of training camp, a move most Jets players celebrated . Fitzpatrick has had a rough go of it this season, including a six-interception performance at Kansas City on Sept. 25, but still appeared to have the support of most of his teammates.
Marshall made that clear after 27-17 loss to Seattle in Week 4 when asked about the quarterback situation.
“I am. Going down. In a boat. With Ryan Fitzpatrick,” Marshall said at the time.
When asked about that comment Wednesday, Marshall smiled.
“In a boat, huh?” he said. “Boat down!”
New York’s offensive woes were hard for Bowles to overlook. The Jets rank 26th overall and are last in the NFL in scoring with 15.8 points per game. Their red zone offense is also worst in the league, scoring eight touchdowns in 22 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line (36.4 percent).
Smith tried to stay patient, but he told an ESPN reporter before the game Monday night that he was getting “antsy” while being stuck on the sideline as the team struggles.
Now, Smith will have a chance to revive both his career and the Jets’ playoff hopes.
“It’s not about me,” Smith said. “It never has been. I’m going to go out there with my teammates and we’re all going to play hard and try to get a win.”
Smith last started in the 2014 season finale at Miami , where he threw for 358 yards and three touchdowns while compiling a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating in a 37-14 win.
In his first game action since a mop-up appearance last November after Fitzpatrick hurt his left thumb, Smith replaced Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals and connected on his first four passes. On third-and-3 from the Cardinals 40, Smith fumbled as he was sacked, but the Jets recovered. He was intercepted by Tyrann Mathieu on the next play, the Jets’ final offensive possession.
A second-round draft pick out of West Virginia in 2013, Smith started all but two games during his first two seasons. Smith showed momentary flashes but was largely inconsistent while throwing 25 TD passes and 34 interceptions in that span.
He appeared to be settling into new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s system, which seemed to suit his athletic style, last season. But then came the locker-room incident that threw his career into uncertainty and set in motion Fitzpatrick’s terrific season.
Now, it’s back to Smith. At least, for now.
“I’ve played before,” Smith said. “It’s not going to be anything new to me, so I’ve just got to go out there and take care of the football and make plays.”
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner in Houston contributed to this report.
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