Luck of the Irish: Start Fitzpatrick

Posted on October 14, 2009 by Paul Seebald
Will the real Trent Edwards please sit down? Out of the hundred questions swirling around the Stanford product this offseason, only one has been answered to date. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong answer to the right question: he’s not the quarterback of the future for Buffalo.
A lot of changes were made on the offensive side of the ball this past offseason. The offensive line was revamped, whether for better or for worse. The Bills’ most versatile weapon, Fred Jackson, was re-signed to a new contract. A legitimate starting receiver – what was his name again? – was brought in to draw coverage off of Lee Evans. The offensive coordinator, Turk Schonert, who apparently had attitude and communication issues with Edwards, was fired and the quarterbacks coach, Alex Van Pelt, was promoted. All of these were supposedly done to help the offense, whether anyone believed they were improvements or not.
Then without warning, the Bills almost stunned the Patriots in Foxboro. The offense did its job in a 25-24 heartbreaker with a surprisingly creative game-plan based on screen plays and the running game. Edwards executed well in that game and again the following week against Tampa Bay. He looked good throwing down the field in connecting with both Evans and Terrell Owens for deep touchdown passes.

But just as Edwards hit the ground running he promptly smacked wall just as fast. Losing offensive linemen to injuries by the bushel didn’t help, but Edwards looked scared and flighty even when he had time to throw. The wide receivers are dropping as many passes as they catch. The play-calling has been uneven at best. Excuses are mounting again. Maybe all those things are true, but reasons for poor offensive performances are not necessarily excuses for a bad quarterback.

The offense barely managed 288 yards against a pitiful Browns defense that had given up 404 yards per prior to Week 5. Edwards has only completed 54.3% of his passes in the last three games, which is 11 points lower than his percentage last year. In the last three games he has one touchdown and five interceptions. In fact, the defenses for the Dolphins and Browns have a combined five interceptions on the year; Edwards has accounted for four of them.

After two games this year, Edwards seemed poised to break out. Three weeks and 13 offensive points later, Bills fans are shell-shocked and calling for Dick Jauron’s head. At this point it seems apparent Ralph Wilson will wait until the bye week, if not the end of the season, to fire Jauron. Unfortunately, there aren’t many changes that could be made sooner other than a quarterback switch.

Should the Bills start Ryan Fitzpatrick and bench Edwards? It’s obviously a desperate situation when the answer is “what’s the harm?”

Edwards has had 28 starts and he’s won 13 of them. He’s thrown more interceptions (24) than touchdowns (23). While his numbers are par statistically with a growing younger quarterback, the reality is his game and mentality has regressed each week. Rather than take the reigns and become a leader on this team, win or lose, he’s increasingly taken on the cowardice personality of his head coach. It shows in his decisions on the field and his willingness to easily check down. Rather than play to win, he’s constantly playing not to lose. Kelly Holcomb thinks he’s too conservative.

Fitzpatrick doesn’t have very good career numbers. His acquisition in the offseason implied two things. Firstly, he’d be a bright backup who helps Edwards grow on the sidelines and in the film room. The other benefit would be an apparent end to the quarterback controversies in Buffalo, as Fitzpatrick did not appear to be a legitimate starter. Another Rob Johnson/Doug Flutie situation this would not become.

But maybe it should. With a 1-4 record and nobody getting the axe, it may be worthwhile to make a quarterback change. Edwards has obviously played poorly and has not been much of a leader on the sidelines. He is rarely seen talking to Owens or Evans, his most important assets in the passing game.

Edwards also didn’t endure himself much to fans after the loss Sunday. He was asked post game if he would boo during the game if he were a fan.

“I’m not a Bills fan. I’m a football player. I’m a Bills player here so I can’t really answer that question.” Edwards replied.

However he meant it to be implied, is that something you’d ever hear Jim Kelly say? Heck, even Rob Johnson knew better.

Poorly chosen words aside, Fitzpatrick is more of a veteran, and has seen a dysfunctional locker room at Cincinnati the past two years. The current backup could provide leadership and possibly a spark. He made the necessary throws in the preseason. As one of the only offensive players to look good in the preseason, he deserves to play.

If anything, it should be Jauron sending a message that he should have sent a long time ago: if you’re not performing then you’re going to be benched. That extends to the quarterback as well.

Fitzpatrick, a Harvard graduate got some good reviews coming out of college. However, it should be made clear I believe Fitzpatrick has zero chance of being our franchise quarterback. Even if he performs well, I don’t like his chances of being a long-term viable starter in this league.

That being said, the main reason Fitzpatrick should start is because of the future. I know that my idea of rebuilding – oh, how we Bills fans hate that word – is not the same as the strategies of other people. My preference, in a nutshell, is to spend about a year building a strong team along the lines first. Then draft a top-rated quarterback recruit to be the starter.

My rebuilding plan relates to Fitzpatrick because during the year of building strong lines, the team will need an average veteran to quarterback the team. While I don’t believe our current backup is a franchise quarterback, I would like to see if he could manage the team for a year or so before handing the reins to a youngster with more upside than Edwards has shown.

While some people may not agree, I think nearly everyone can concur that Edwards is not the answer. Starting Fitzpatrick doesn’t make the Bills playoff-bound, but it may help the offense get back on track. It may also prove Fitzpatrick’s worth in helping a future rookie adjust to the professional level.

The way Trent continues to play his days are clearly numbered. Why prolong the agony? When it comes down to it at this point, what do you have to lose, Dick?

Fitzpatrick having success could lead to an offensive turnaround, in turn seeing the Bills start to win games. It may even save your job, as taboo as it is for me to say.

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