The Miami Dolphins will be forced to play Sunday’s critical game against the Buffalo Bills without veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who tested positive for COVID-19.
Fitzpatrick didn’t attend Thursday’s practice and will likely be sidelined at least two weeks — unless he received a false positive test result.
“It hurts,” Dolphins safety Eric Rowe said of Fitzpatrick. “He’s a leader on our team. He brings energy. I’m sure it’s worse for him because he loves the game and no one wants to catch COVID. With that, you have to push forward.”
Fitzpatrick’s heroics led Miami to a wild 26-25 come-from-behind win over the Las Vegas Raiders last week, putting the Dolphins in a win-and-you’re-in scenario heading into Sunday’s 1 p.m. game in Buffalo.
Now, rookie Tua Tagovailoa ― who is 6-2 as Miami’s starter but was benched in the fourth quarter for the second time last week ― likely will play the entire Bills game with hopes to push Miami to a playoff berth with a victory.
If the Dolphins lose to the Bills, they can still advance to the postseason if Cleveland (vs. Pittsburgh), Baltimore (at Bengals) or Indianapolis (vs. Jacksonville) lose on Sunday.
“We love Ryan but we have a job to do. I think everybody is focused on getting that done,” Dolphins receiver Isaiah Ford said.
“We all know what’s at stake. We know how important this game is. We’re trying to win one football game and go from there.”
Fitzpatrick, 38, has never played in a playoff game during his 16-year NFL career.
If the Dolphins make the postseason, it is possible Fitzpatrick may not be able to join the team for its potential playoff game. NFL players must be away from the team for 10 days due to league protocols.
If the Dolphins’ playoff game is on a Saturday, Fitzpatrick’s ninth day, he would be out. If the Dolphins’ play on a Sunday, Fitzpatrick’s 10th day, he could play but may have to travel separately.
“I want to go. I want to feel what it’s like. I think we have a special team. I think this team all year long has fought. And for me, it’s not just this year, it’s the last two years and trying to build this foundation and build this vision of what Coach Flores thinks that we are,” Fitzpatrick said after the Raiders game.
“I’m proud of the fact that I’ve really been able to contribute to that and have a strong contribution. ... I am well aware that I’ve never been to the playoffs, I promise you. And we would love nothing more than to get there.”
The Dolphins signed quarterback Jake Rudock, who has bounced on and off the practice squad this season, and he participated in Thursday’s practice. Rudock, who was put on the active roster, joins Reid Sinnett as the backups to Tagovailoa. But Sinnett would need to be promoted from the practice squad to play on Sunday.
The Dolphins also placed linebacker Elandon Roberts, who suffered a season-ending right knee injury last week, on injured reserve and elevated rookie receiver Kirk Merritt from the practice squad as a COVID-19 reserve replacement.
Despite Fitzpatrick’s late-game heroics against the Raiders — completing 9 of 13 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown in half a quarter — coach Brian Flores remained adamant that Tagovailoa would continue to be Miami’s starter.
Fitzpatrick, a 16-year NFL veteran who turned 38 this year, signed a two-year deal in 2019 that paid him $13.5 million. He is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Fitzpatrick’s 2020 regular season ends with the best completion percentage of his career at 68.5, while throwing for 2,091 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also had a 4-3 record as Miami’s starter this season.
While Fitzpatrick has flirted with retirement in the past, it is possible that he wants to continue playing, but would prefer to do so with a franchise that gives him a fair chance to compete for the starting spot. That window appears to be closed in Miami.
However, it is possible that the Dolphins could convince him to re-sign this offseason and continue serving as Tagovailoa’s backup and mentor.