CLEVELAND - When life's got you down, when the job's going nowhere, when you're facing another bad day and wondering why to keep trying so hard, here's what you do:
Watch Ryan Fitzpatrick's play Sunday.
That's all. Just watch his play in Miami Dolphins' 41-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Watch his infectious joy. Watch his contagious passion. Watch and wonder how, down 28-3, the Dolphins quarterback celebrated a simple touchdown pass to Mike Gesicki with enough fist pumps and chest bumps to fuel a parade.
"It's hard to get in the end zone in this league, so when you get in there, you've got to celebrate," he said. "I knew we needed that one to claw back in the game. I was hoping we'd be able to rally from that moment, but we didn't get it done."
In a strategically bad Dolphins season, Fitzpatrick is a surprise as as the best brand of role model sports can offer. Anyone can look good winning.
There, in the other locker room Sunday, Cleveland receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry talked to the media, side by side, with jokes and smiles after their fun day of touchdowns. That's easy.
Come back on a bad day and see how they handle it. Then come back in a season where bad days stack like firewood and try to carry the flame of optimism like Fitzpatrick.
There he was again in Sunday's dismal loss. No whining. No cursing. No ugly body English when, say, Jakeem Grant didn't break off a route and Fitzpatrick's pass bounced harmlessly 15 yards behind him.
"I think everybody's different, everybody's 'why' is different," he said. "Especially in trying times, you have to figure out your why as a football player. For me, over the years it's changed from trying to prove I belonged to trying to lead a team, which it is a little bit for me now. But there are other reasons, too."
The prime one is his two boys, Brady, 12 and Tate, 10. Dad knows they watch everything he does.
"I want them to enjoy watching me play," he said. "I don't tell them anything about things that I do. Who I am on the football field, I just want that to rub off on them a little bit."
"They're upset when we lose and mad at me. I want to show them every single play, whether we're up by 28 or down by 28, I'm going to give everything I have and put the team in the best position I can. I hope that rubs off on them a little bit, whether in football or life."
Fitzpatrick passed two milestones on Sunday that tell of perspective and staying power: 200 career touchdowns and 37 years old. He remembers his first touchdown in St. Louis and his 100th in Tennessee.
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"To be still doing it to throw 200, that means something," he said.
On his birthday, he was getting old-man ribbing from millennial teammates. He turned it around on them, though.
"Where will you be when you're 37?" he said.
He was completed 21-of-39 passes for 214 yards for a staggeringly untalented Dolphins team. He had more than double the next Dolphins rusher, too, with five carries for 45 yards.
Don't get the wrong idea. This is a painful season from one view for Fitzpatrick, too.
"It's hard to lose, and to put so much into it and have a day like (Sunday) or a day like last week," he said. "I don't know any other way to do things than just giving everything I have to this team and this game and try to enjoy myself."
In some form, you see, Fitzpatrick is in on the joke. He understands what this season is about. He's been around enough to extract from this year what is possible and not be ruined by the losses.
"I'm the perfect guy for this situation," he said earlier this year, and every Sunday confirms as much.
The theme stories to this season were the continued deterioration of both lines and improved draft position to the third pick.
Fitzpatrick doesn't figure in any the big-picture stuff. He does in surviving the bridge to tomorrow, though.
"I'm still enjoying it, still loving being out there," he said.
When he entered the interview room, he took a piece of chewing gum from his mouth and put it on the podium and talked of his day. That's his routine.
In training camp, he stuck the gum on his helmet before answering questions. Now, as he left Sunday's podium, he took the gum again and, as always, popped it back in his mouth.
Maybe that's Fitzpatrick, right there. A kid at heart. A role model to appreciate. Few of us have Tom Brady lives of winning all the time. Fitzpatrick, the happy loser, is more Everyman relatable. Just watch him. You'll see.
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