Miami’s Fitzpatrick attends 1st NFL game _ and makes impact
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Miami Dolphins rookie and New Jersey native Minkah Fitzpatrick is ready for a rowdy reception returning to his home turf Sunday, when his team plays the New York Jets.
“I grew up in that environment, everybody loving the game up there,” Fitzpatrick said Wednesday. “Going back up there, I know what I’m walking into. I know how crazy it’s going to be.”
But Fitzpatrick never attended an NFL game growing up, and in fact had never seen a pro game until Sunday, when he helped the Dolphins beat the Tennessee Titans 27-20.
It was a memorable debut for multiple reasons. Thanks to lightning delays, the game lasted more than seven hours and was the league’s longest since at least 1970.
And Fitzpatrick played well. He made six tackles, including a goal-line stop in the open field on fourth down.
“My first big play in the NFL — you dream about those moments,” he said. “Seeing all my teammates and the whole crowd go crazy, it was awesome. It’s definitely something I’m not going to forget.”
After three seasons at Alabama, Fitzpatrick was accustomed to big games, and he reported no butterflies leading up to his NFL debut.
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous,” he said. “I was just really excited to be playing.”
That was the case with the Dolphins’ entire rookie class, coach Adam Gase said. The other draft picks who played were tight ends Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe, linebacker Jerome Baker, and placekicker Jason Sanders.
“I felt like they were all very loose before we started the game,” Gase said. “It seemed like everybody was playing fast.
“It’s going to probably take some time to see how everybody fits in and what their roles become. We’ve got an idea, but I don’t think we really got as good of a flow offensively as we wanted. Defensively I think the young guys did a good job. It seemed like they were around the ball quite a bit.”
Fitzpatrick, taken 11th in the draft, knows accolades from his debut will be brief, including Wednesday’s team film session that replayed his goal-line tackle.
“Everybody just said, ‘Good job, rook,’ and then we kept it moving,” he said.
For the Dolphins it’s on to the Jets, who stunned Detroit 48-17 in their opener behind rookie quarterback Sam Darnold .
Fitzpatrick recalls playing in college against Darnold, who came off the bench for Southern Cal and saw brief action when both were sophomores. The Trojans lost 52-6, but Fitzpatrick’s not about to take Darnold lightly.
“He was drafted high for a reason,” Fitzpatrick said. “And he’s starting for a reason. He’s going to be a challenge for us.”
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve_Wine. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/steven-wine