Ryan Fitzpatrick's struggles now date back a full calendar year, and there's no sign of him breaking out of his funk.
Going into November 2011, the Bills were 5-2 and seemingly on their way to their first playoff berth since the 1999 season, and the ink was barely dry on Fitzpatrick's six-year, $59 million contract, a personnel decision that now seems absurd. Since then, the Bills have gone 4-13, the most recent loss a 21-9 decision in Houston, and with a 3-5 record this season and a trip to AFC East-leader New England on tap this week, there most likely won't be a playoff appearance this year, either.
In those heady days in the first half of 2011, Fitzpatrick looked like he had emerged from his career backup status. He was in control of an offense that utilized multiple personnel groupings and moved the ball with good balance between the run and pass. Those days are long gone.
Fitzpatrick played terrible during the second half of 2011, though broken ribs had something to do with that. This year, his health is fine, and he simply isn't playing well enough to give the Bills a chance to succeed.
Fitzpatrick does not have a strong arm, nor does he have a talented group of receivers, and that combination has proven too difficult to overcome for the Bills. Their offense has been reduced to a strong running game -- when they don't abandon it after they have fallen behind, which is frequent -- and a mind-numbing series of short passes, most of those aimed at running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who seems hobbled by injuries far too often, is not a true No. 1 receiver who makes teams alter their coverage plan. They double-team him because he's the only guy who provides any type of threat. Wide receiver Donald Jones would not start on perhaps any other team. Third-round pick T.J. Graham, who was supposed to bring the deep ball to the Buffalo offense with his 4.3 speed, has a long gain of 19 yards this season. But in the end, it all comes back to Fitzpatrick because he just doesn't have enough talent to get the ball where it needs to be.
Coach Chan Gailey is getting as much heat in Buffalo as Fitzpatrick because his play-calling has been less than inventive. However, you have to wonder if he knows that Fitzpatrick isn't capable of executing what Gailey would like to do. Gailey denied this when asked if he is hamstrung in his play-calling because of his QB.
"No, I don't think so, I wouldn't say that," he said. "I think we're better underneath. I think that's what our guys do better so you try to let them do what they do best."
And that's all fine, playing to your strength, but the Bills have no semblance of a downfield attack, and it has become increasingly easier for defenses to load up to stop the run, and do as the Texans did -- stay in their base defense and dare the Bills to beat them downfield.
"They did a nice job with the personnel they had in, basically taking us out of a lot of our three wide receiver run game," said Fitzpatrick. "They did a good job of that. We tried to run a little bit early with two tights and they did a good job of taking that away. We felt like we had a better chance getting the ball in the air a little bit, trying to go against those one-on-one matchups."
Both Fitzpatrick and Gailey continually harped on how the Texans didn't play their normal defense when the Bills were in their three-wide set, which they like to run out of. Yet rather than find a way to exploit that, they simply gave up, went to their spread, and put the ball in Fitzpatrick's hands. It was foolhardy.
"Unfortunately we got beat by a better team," said Fitzpatrick. "We just need to continue to push and work and not get down. That's the only chance we have to turn this thing around."
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