Watching Ryan Fitzpatrick play quarterback is exhausting.
This wasn’t always the case. Hell, you know what? Maybe it was, but it’s in our nature to see victorious lapses through rose-colored glasses. It’s a painful thing to have followed over the past two years, the degeneration of Fitzpatrick from idolized messiah to gut-wrenching wildcard. It’s the nature of any fanbase to ignore deficiencies and weaknesses when their team is winning. It’s even more natural for us, as Buffalo fans, because our status quo is littered with sub-par this and downright terrible that – we just want to win. Most of us don’t care how.
That’s what’s made this whole Fitzpatrick saga hard to handle. We’ve gone through so much gloom and despair over the years that when this bearded brainiac played well enough to get the team to a 5-2 record in his first full year as a starter, most Bills fans couldn’t help but pine over him. Ryan played well, Buffalo won football games. In turn, he was rewarded with endearment from us and greenbacks from management. A camera couldn’t catch the guy without a smile on his face and who could blame him? His confidence was at an all-time high. When you’ve got a team built around you and it’s actually doing well, you can’t help but exude that.
Unfortunately for Ryan (and the rest of us, really) that goes both ways. After notching that fifth win in week eight of the 2011 season, Buffalo fell off the face of the earth with seven consecutive losses and a disappointing 6-10 record to show for their efforts. Throughout that bad streak, Fitzpatrick had some of the worst games of his career (which may have been caused by a lingering injury) and lost the confident smile which was so easily visible earlier in the season. The rest of the team seemed to shut down with the loss of their leader in his ideal form, taking leaps backward in morale and quality of performance.
Healthy and hyped up, they all came back this year with redemption on their minds – Fitzpatrick included. After a very rocky first few weeks, we’ve seen games of excellence and those of affliction – all seemingly hinging on the play of the quarterback. Truly, as Ryan Fitzpatrick goes, so go the Bills. It’s taken almost no time at all for that dynamic to wear the almost nonexistent patience of Bills faithful even thinner. No longer is there an excitement and certainty associated with a Fitzpatrick start – those feelings have widely been replaced with pendulous worry and tentativeness, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent as the season progresses that he’s not the franchise quarterback the team thought they were paying for.
The talent level of the other 52 guys on this roster becomes nullified when Fitzpatrick is under center. In most instances, that’s a good thing. Guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees can turn warm bodies into Pro Bowlers with a flick of the wrist. Fitzpatrick, aided by the system he’s in, has that same ability to a degree. More often than not, though, he uses his ineptitude and horrendous decision making to murder any potential the rest of the team has.
Ryan’s a smart guy; he knows this is what’s happening. He has no confidence in himself – he’s lost his security blanket in David Nelson and he doesn’t trust his other targets. To make matters worse, this defense is historically bad and puts him in a position to consistently need to attempt making plays that normally wouldn’t be asked of him. Fitzpatrick is a game manager with a gunslinger mentality, and now that this mentality is damaged, he can no longer manage games.
Just this past Sunday, amidst a solid three-touchdown performance, Fitzpatrick got the ball on third-and-seven in his own end with a lead and three minutes to go. The call was a quick route to Donald Jones down the sideline just past the sticks. It was clear that this was the play because the guy refuses to look anywhere near any other targets when he knows who’s designed to get the ball. The coverage was there – the play was not. He didn’t throw the ball away, look elsewhere, or just take a sack. No, that’s not how Ryan Fitzpatrick rolls. He thinks he’s Brett Favre – he thinks he’s throwing to Jerry Rice. With Jason McCourty all over Jones, Fitzpatrick went for a back shoulder throw (which he is one of the absolute worst in the league at completing) and dropped a gimme right into the Tennessee defender’s hands.
Immediately following that play, fans knew the writing was on the wall and started to leave. People left a close game with the home team in the lead because they’ve seen this before. The emotion and energy was sucked out of that crowd instantaneously.
It’s these types of decisions that define Fitzpatrick and further conceal that confidence he once had. We all knew that the Titans would march the short distance downfield and score with zero resistance, and we all knew that our quarterback was completely incapable of doing anything with the final drive when it counted.
If we can see his ills so clearly, why can’t the decision makers of this team? If they can, why do they ignore them? It’s clear that this guy has a shellshocked faith in himself; they’ve got to ease him out of being the centerpiece of this team. He won’t be our quarterback forever – he won’t even be here much longer – but he’s going to be here for the rest of this season at the very least. Find ways to keep the score lower. Play defense. Run the ball. Call a more manageable passing game. Teach him how to throw the ball away.
Find something to do to take the W’s and L’s out of his hands. Coddle him, win some football games, and send him packing. That way, we can bring in some young new millionaire with an excitable grin, impudence, and naiveté and destroy everything about him. It’s always fun to watch this cyclical trainwreck, isn’t it?