The Herald Bulletin

November 22, 2012

Fitzpatrick, Buffalo still have much to prove

By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

INDIANAPOLIS — Ryan Fitzpatrick finally got a good, long look at Andrew Luck last week.

As a fellow quarterback, Fitzpatrick assesses the Indianapolis Colts rookie’s 334-yard, two-touchdown, three-interception performance against the New England Patriots with a little different eye than most.

“You can go out there and have a game with a few turnovers and people get on you a little bit, but (it’s) the way you respond to those turnovers,” Fitzpatrick said. “He is not shy to throw the ball anywhere. I was really impressed more so with his mental toughness in the mental aspects of his game.”

The mental aspects of the game could get quite a bit of attention Sunday when Fitzpatrick’s Buffalo Bills visit Lucas Oil Stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff.

Fitzpatrick, a native of Gilbert, Ariz., studied economics at Harvard before being selected in the seventh round of the 2005 draft by the St. Louis Rams.

Luck, of course, is one of the more notable architecture graduates from the Harvard of the West — Stanford.

So Sunday’s game could feature the best-educated quarterback matchup in the NFL this year. But it won’t be contested with protractors or calculators.

These two smart guys have proven they can play.

Luck already has set rookie records for single-game passing yardage and for 300-yard passing games. He’s on pace to shatter Cam Newton’s year-old single-season rookie passing yards record, and he needs two more victories to surpass Sam Bradford’s record for wins by a rookie quarterback taken with the No. 1 overall pick.

Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, signed a six-year, $59 million contract extension last year during the final season of a three-year deal. It came in the midst of a surprise early season surge that had Bills fans dreaming about the team breaking its playoff drought.

Buffalo stumbled down the stretch, but Fitzpatrick completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,832 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also threw 23 interceptions, however, raising some doubt about just what the Bills were paying for.

This year, Fitzpatrick’s completion percentage is up to 62.5 percent, and his interception percentage is down. He’s thrown for 2,179 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and his 87.0 quarterback rating is the best of his career.

But Buffalo has disappointed overall.

A host of defensive additions were expected to make the team an AFC playoff contender. But the defense ranks 30th in the 32-team NFL with an average of 29 points allowed per game, and it’s 27th overall with an average of 387.4 yards surrendered per contest.

Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick and the offense have moved the ball well on the ground but often struggled to find the end zone. Behind rising young star C.J. Spiller and trusted veteran Fred Jackson, the Bills rank seventh in the league in rushing. But with just 23 points per game overall, Buffalo boasts just the 17th-best scoring offense in the NFL. It all adds up to a 4-6 record and has the Bills on the edge of the playoff cliff.

“There have been games we have been very good,” Fitzpatrick said. “There have been games we have been very bad. It is not just one phase of the game. We have done some great things in the red zone and had games where we could not score. We have done great things on third down and had games where we could not convert. So it is just a matter of us being consistent and everybody being on the same page. I think our confidence level now is as high as it has been all season so it is headed in the right direction.”

Sunday’s game in Indianapolis offers a shot at redemption.

If the Bills can win, they’ll pull within one game of the final playoff spot. With home games coming in the next two weeks against the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars and Rams, there’s still a chance Buffalo can make the playoff run expected by many in the offseason.

“You have to go play this game (first),” Bills head coach Chan Gailey said. “I have always said you play as hard as you can play, you look up after (Week) 12 and you kind of see where you are. To me, you just play as hard as you can play right now and try to get better as a football team. After Week 12, after Game 12, you kind of see where you are, evaluate it and what your chances are.”