FOXBOROUGH — With his team sporting the league’s No. 1-ranked defense and top-ranked rushing offense, Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick might play a secondary role in Sunday’s game against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
The Harvard graduate has faced the Patriots seven times, and has thrown 17 interceptions in those games. Maybe he’s the one the Patriots want to see with the ball, instead of running back Chris Ivory, who has gained 146 and 166 yards the past two games.
This will be the first time Fitzpatrick will go up against the Patriots as a member of the Jets; his seven previous appearances came when he was with the Buffalo Bills. He was 1-6 in those games, and is now with his fourth team in four seasons, after stops in Tennessee (2013) and Houston (2014).
“He’s a really smart player,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “They put a lot on him in terms of running the offense. He throws into some tight coverage situations, but he’s got big receivers like [Brandon] Marshall and [Eric] Decker and is giving them a chance to make plays on the ball, and they’re making them.
“You’re not really going to fool this guy too much. We have to do a good job of executing what we do, in the running game and the passing game. He’s hurt teams scrambling, so we’re going to have to handle all that.”
Filling in for injured starter Geno Smith, Fitzpatrick is completing nearly 63 percent of his passes, and has thrown nine touchdowns. He’s been sacked only twice in six games, and has seven interceptions.
“I think the guys up front for us, in the run game and the pass game, have done a great job, and we’ve got to continue to build on that,” Fitzpatrick said.
The Patriots counter with a defense that has piled up 19 sacks through five games, and picked off six passes.
Signing with the Jets has brought Fitzpatrick back together with Chan Gailey, who was the Bills’ head coach from 2010-12. Now he’s the Jets’ offensive coordinator, a match that Fitzpatrick’s former college coach said is one reason why the quarterback is playing so well.
“I’ve always said — and this can’t be taken objectively, and I understand that — but I truly believe that he is one of the 15 best quarterbacks on the planet,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy, who watched Fitzpatrick guide the Crimson to a 10-0 season in 2004.
“For the first time, he is in a system he knows, reunited with Chan Gailey. And for the first time, he is on a team with a good defense and a running game. You put it all together, and it gives him a chance.”
Receiver Brandon LaFell returned to practice Wednesday, starting the 21-day window the Patriots have to move him from the physically unable to perform list to the 53-man active roster. Barring a setback with the foot injury that required offseason surgery, it shouldn’t take LaFell that long. He might be ready to play against the Jets.
LaFell was with the team for its past two games, on the road.
“In Brandon’s case, he’s a player that I think at some point will be back on the roster,” said Belichick. “As it’s moving in that direction, I think being there on game day, going through the whole preparation — Saturday night, game day, and so forth — maybe that gets a player in a more comfortable mode when he does that.”
LaFell declined a request for an interview.
The two players left on the PUP list, defensive tackle Chris Jones and linebacker Dane Fletcher, did not participate in practice. When they do, their 21-day clock will begin as well.
New York’s Stevan Ridley, who played with the Patriots from 2011-14, also practiced Wednesday, according to Jets coach Todd Bowles. That starts the running back’s window to move from the PUP list to the active roster.
Stork takes part
LaFell wasn’t the only player to return to the field. Center Bryan Stork also was practicing, on the first day he was eligible following his placement on short-term injured reserve. Stork was placed on IR with a designation to return Sept. 9 with a concussion. He can practice, but can’t play in a game until Nov. 8 against Washington . . . Matthew Slater and Dont’a Hightower were also at practice, while four players sat out: offensive linemen Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, and linebacker Rufus Johnson. Hightower missed Sunday’s win at Indianapolis with a rib injury, and Slater left in the fourth quarter with what looked to be a potentially serious knee injury. Yet both were participating in Wednesday’s workout, albeit in a limited capacity. Cannon left the Colts game in the first quarter with a toe injury, while Sheard injured an ankle. Mason popped up on the injury report with a knee injury, while Johnson missed practice with an illness. Running back Dion Lewis (abdomen) and offensive lineman Josh Kline (shoulder) also were limited in practice.
LaFell may have declined an interview request, but he made sure the media noticed the LSU T-shirts that were hanging in the lockers of Dominique Easley and Jon Bostic, two players from the University of Florida. LaFell is a product of LSU, which knocked off the Gators Saturday . . . The Patriots signed running back Joey Iosefa to the practice squad. Iosefa was a seventh-round draft pick by the Titans this year out of the University of Hawaii, but was released Aug. 30.