Early in the season, when the Bills were winning five of their first seven games and their offense was among the league leaders in points and yards and Ryan Fitzpatrick was the AFC's offensive player of the month for September, it looked as if Buffalo had finally turned the corner after 11 consecutive non-playoff seasons.
As the Bills continue sinking back to their requisite spot near the bottom of the NFL standings with seven consecutive losses, it looks as if around that corner was a brick wall, and they have crashed into it and gone splat. The Bills are now 5-9, and they have a real good chance of finishing 5-11 with a home game against Denver and a road finale at New England remaining. Buffalo also will have some big-time concerns heading into the offseason, and those start with Fitzpatrick.
"It's hard for me to go out there and turn the ball over three times and struggle like I did and have people angry and upset, and you hear the boos, you hear all that," said Fitzpatrick, who was booed off the field a few times during the Bills' 30-23 loss to Miami. "But I'm a guy that's never going to stop playing, never going to stop fighting. I just have to figure it out and get better. We haven't played very well, and that starts with me."
In the last week of October, when the Bills were about to get to 5-2 with a dominating 23-0 win over Washington, Fitzpatrick signed a contract extension for six years worth a potential $59 million, about $24 million of that guaranteed. Since the ink dried, the Bills won that game in Toronto over the Redskins, and they have lost their next seven, and Fitzpatrick has been simply horrific.
Following the Miami loss, coach Chan Gailey was asked if he had lost confidence in his quarterback and he predictably said, "Zero. I've lost zero confidence." That statement was only slightly hard to believe.
Over the first seven games, Fitzpatrick completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 1,739 yards with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and he was averaging 7.59 yards per attempt. During the seven-game losing streak, his percentage is 57.7 percent, with eight TDs and 12 picks, and his yards per attempt is a sickly 5.96 yards.
As Fitzpatrick was throwing three interceptions by midway through the third quarter against the Dolphins, Gailey said he never considered benching Fitzpatrick in favor of Tyler Thigpen.
"We are not at a point yet where we can't get better and we can't continue to try to improve as a football team," Gailey said. "I don't know who's going to be here next year. He's got to work with everybody."
Fitzpatrick caught lightning in a bottle early in the year, though that storm started brewing in 2010. After an 0-2 start under Trent Edwards last season, Gailey cut Edwards and turned the offense over to Fitzpatrick, who was in his second year with the Bills after starting his career with stints in St. Louis and Cincinnati. Fitzpatrick could not direct a victory in any of his first six starts as Buffalo dipped to 0-8, but then he started to play better, he developed some chemistry with Stevie Johnson, and the Bills split their final eight games.
During the NFL lockout, Fitzpatrick was a pillar of team unity. He hosted several teammates at his home in Arizona for a week of workouts, and then was one of the leaders when the team gathered in Buffalo in May to conduct its own minicamp. When he got off to the hot start, the Bills felt the need to lock him up to a new deal because he was going to be an unrestricted free agent come March 2012.
It now appears the Bills, known for botching personnel decisions, may have made another. Fitzpatrick looks nothing like a franchise quarterback, and in fact, looks exactly like what he has been most of his career, a backup.
Last week, Gailey was asked if the Bills would consider picking a quarterback in the first round of the 2012 draft, and he said he didn't think that was on the table. It seems hard to believe it wouldn't be, especially if the Bills -- who seem headed for a top-10 slot -- have a shot at someone like Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III from Baylor or USC's Matt Barkley, if either declares for the draft and is sitting there when Buffalo picks.
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