Rookie heroics

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- Out of high school, the choice was easy for Ryan Fitzpatrick.

With only one college scholarship offer, and that from Division I-AA Eastern Washington, the St. Louis Rams' third-string quarterback chose to pay his way to Harvard. Now, he's got the education and a game to match.

"I think it would have made my decision a little bit tougher as far as passing up a scholarship from a bigger school or going to the Ivy League and paying my way," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm glad it worked out that way."

Injuries to Marc Bulger and Jamie Martin, who took a blow to the head in the first half of Sunday's game at Houston and still had blurred vision on Monday, thrust the unheralded rookie into the limelight. Fitzpatrick was ready for his moment, throwing for 310 yards, including the tying touchdown in the final 30 seconds and the winning touchdown in the Rams' improbable overtime victory over the Texans.

Pretty impressive for the 250th pick of this year's draft.

"Once I let that first ball go, everything was fine," Fitzpatrick said. "I was in a situation where going in, you're not the starter and you're just thrown into the situation and you don't have much time to think about it."

He presided over a whirlwind in the final minute of Sunday's 33-27 victory. First, he hit Isaac Bruce for a 43-yard touchdown on fourth-and-6 to cut the gap to three. After Jeff Wilkins' perfectly executed onside kick was recovered by Torry Holt, he hit Holt for a 19-yard gain to set up Wilkins' 47-yard field goal that forced overtime.

Then he and Kevin Curtis hooked up on a quick screen pass that turned into the game-winning 56-yard score in overtime.

"He came in and acted like he's done it before," Curtis said. "He wasn't nervous. He just came in and played the game."

Interim coach Joe Vitt wasn't ready Monday to hand Fitzpatrick the start this week against the Redskins. Martin was cleared by an opthamologist on Monday.

"I'm not here to discuss that right now," Vitt said. "We'll wait and see."

Fitzpatrick was coach Mike Martz's sleeper pick after setting a career total offense record at Harvard and being chosen Ivy League player of the year as a senior, prizing him for his arm and savvy. The Rams took him in the seventh round and he quickly outshone second-year player Jeff Smoker for the third-string spot.

"Mike has made the statement that this is the only quarterback he's ever coached he's never got mad at," Vitt said. "He just does not make mistakes, he's got poise and presence, and the game is not too big for him."

"Fitz is a smart guy," Vitt added. "I think you need more than a valid fishing license to get into Harvard."

Even before his breakout game in Sunday's overtime victory over the Texans, players noticed the kid had presence.

"Watching him, he seems to have some poise," Holt said. "Coming from Harvard, we assume he's a smart kid."

Invariably, he leads wind sprints at the end of practice and he's earnestly soaked up every detail about the Rams' offense, leaving no room to criticize the Ivy League brat.

"I've been an effort guy, sort of the underdog guy, my whole life," Fitzpatrick said. "The thing that got me here is hard work, and there's no way I'm going to stop doing that now."

The Rams (5-6) remain a long shot to make it to the postseason, and could give Fitzpatrick another shot this week against the Redskins to see what they have for the future. Fitzpatrick is confident he's no flash in the pan.

"I'm sure I'll always have some doubters out there," he said. "But I have always been convinced of this, and (this) was no shock to me."

The more his stock rises, the longer his economics degree might be shelved. Fitzpatrick's goal coming out of college was to become a financial adviser. He worked at a hedge fund after his sophomore year at Harvard.

"Anything managing other people's money would be nice," he said. "Hopefully, I won't have to put it to use for a while."

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