ASN’s NFL Top 10: Fitzpatrick puts Jets on playoff flight pattern

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 27:  Eric Decker #87 of the New York Jets jumps on the back of  Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets during a television interview after their 26-20 overtime win against the New England Patriots  at MetLife Stadium on December 27, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

As the NFL enters its final week of the regular season, ASN’s biggest name players — quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ben Roethlisberger — find themselves headed in opposite directions.

Fitzpatrick, far less of a household name than Big Ben, is on the hot streak, guiding his New York Jets (10-5) to a five-game win streak and a shot at the playoffs for the first time since 2010.  The Jets play at the Buffalo Bills Sunday and a victory would secure a wild-card spot. In addition, Fitzpatrick would snap his streak of being the quarterback with the second-most career starts without ever making the playoffs.

Conversely, Roethlisberger, who has already had a Hall of Fame-worthy career, and his Pittsburgh Steelers have to rely on help to get into the playoffs. After an unexpected and stunning loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, the Steelers must not only win on Sunday, but need the Jets to lose to secure the AFC wild card.

For his performance on Sunday and for leading the Jets to the cusp of a playoff spot, Fitzpatrick is ASN’s Most Notable Player for Week 16.


1Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets

Fitzpatrick (Harvard) helped the Jets get a measure of revenge against AFC East rival New England  on Sunday, passing for three touchdowns in New York’s 26-20 overtime victory against the Patriots. The veteran had his third-best game in terms of passing yards. He connected with Brandon Marshall for touchdown passes of two and 33 yards and Eric Decker for six yards. The game marked Fitzpatrick’s seventh with no interceptions and moved Fitzpatrick to No. 12 in the NFL in passing yards with 3,724. He’s tied for seventh in league in touchdown passes with 29. Fitzpatrick’s only blemish was a fumble.

2Vance McDonald, San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco didn’t win, but the third-year tight end out of Rice redeemed himself after he allowed two interceptions to bounce of his fingertips last week. McDonald  not only scored his third touchdown of the season in the 49ers’ loss to the Lions, but he also led all receivers with five catches for 61 yards, his second-best performance of the season in terms of yards. Vance’s 1-yard touchdown reception was the first score of the game.

3Andrew Sendejo, Minnesota Vikings

Sendejo (Rice) has gotten his hand on the ball several times this season, but Sunday marked his first interception. Sendejo got his pick at the 8:03 mark of the second quarter and returned it nine yards. Unfortunately, the Vikings could not capitalize on the turnover. Sendejo was also credited with three tackles as the Vikings secured a playoff spot with a 49-17 trouncing of the New York Giants. The interception was the second of Sendejo’s career.

4Justin Bethel, Arizona Cardinals

Bethel, a cornerback out of Presbyterian, snagged his second interception of the season with 1:05 to play in the second quarter against Green Bay. The pick set up an Arizona Cardinals scoring drive that ended in a touchdown and gave the Cardinals a 17-0 halftime lead. Bethel also had a team-high seven solo tackles in a 38-8 romp over the Packers.

5Corey Graham, Buffalo Bills

Graham (New Hamsphire) had his first double-digit tackle game since Week 5 on Sunday, when he was credited with 12 tackles (nine solos, three assists) in the Bills’ 16-6 victory against the Dallas Cowboys. Graham had 12 tackles in two other games early in the season and a season high of 13 in Week 4 vs. the Giants. A veteran safety, Graham is ranked No. 7 in the league in tackles for the season.

6Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints

After catching four passes for 75 yards on Sunday, Snead (Ball State) is only 51 yards short of reaching 1,000 yards for the season. He is ranked No. 26 among NFL receivers for the season though he is not a starter. Teammate Brandon Cooks became the 10th Saint in history to catch 1,000 yards in a season, as the Saints beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 38-27. Snead entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Cleveland Browns in 2014, before joining the Saints as a practice-squad player later that season. He caught his first pro pass in Week 2.

7Brett Kern, Tennessee Titans

It’s not the kind of stat a punter wants, but Kern (Toledo) may have been the only solid player on the field for the Titans on Sunday. Kern punted a season-high nine times for an average 43.3 yards in Tennessee’s 34-6 loss to the Houston Texans. Kern put seven of those punts inside the 20 and the nine punts vaulted him to No. 6 on the league list for number of punts for the season. He is No. 5 in terms of yards with 3,875.

8Rashad Jennings, New York Giants

Despite not scoring a touchdown, Jennings put together a heck of a game, amassing 74 yards on 14 carries and 62 yards on two receptions. Jennings (Liberty) accounted for more than one-third of the Giants’ total yards in their 49-17 defeat by the Minnesota Vikings. The performance was among the running back’s most balanced of the season and was his best in terms of total yards.

9Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers found their passing game stifled by the lowly Ravens on Sunday, as Roethlisberger threw no touchdown passes and two interceptions in the Steelers 20-17 loss. Roethlisberger (Miami Ohio) completed only 24 of 34 attempts for 223 yards and Pittsburgh’s two touchdowns were of the running variety. Both of Roethlisberger’s interceptions resulted in Ravens touchdowns — the first a 50-yard field goal in the second quarter and the second a 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger also had a fumble, but Pittsburgh retained possession.

10Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

Brown (Central Michigan) did all he could in the Steelers’ loss to Baltimore — catch a team-high seven passes for 61 yards. None of those receptions resulted in touchdowns, but Brown is ranked No. 2 in the league in both receptions and receiving yards with 123 catches for 1,647 yards.

Honorable mention

Atlanta Falcons WR Roddy White (UAB) caught five passes for 67 yards in a victory against the previously undefeated Carolina Panthers. … Safety Barry Church (Toledo) had seven tackles (five solo, two assists) for the Cowboys in their loss to Buffalo. … Isa Abdul-Quddus (Fordham) was credited with six tackles (four solos, two assists) and a sack in the Lions’ victory against San Francisco.  … Charcandrick West (Abilene Christian) led all Kansas City Chiefs running backs with 14 carries for 62 yards in a 17-13 win against Cleveland. … T.Y. Hilton (Florida International) led all Colts receivers with four catches for 64 yards in Indianapolis’ victory against the Miami Dolphins. … S Jonathan Cyprien (FIU) shared the lead for tackles with nine (seven solo, two assists) in the Jaguars’ loss to New Orleans.

Above: Eric Decker of the New York Jets jumps on the back of Ryan Fitzpatrick during a television interview after their 26-20 overtime win against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium on Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Jill R. Dorson

Jill R. Dorson is a freelance writer based in San Diego.