We’ve been running a pair of series at Buffalo Sports Daily, highlighting the five biggest bright spots… and dark clouds on the 2011 Buffalo Bills season. We kicked off the dark cloud portions with number five the Bills reality check in the Whiteout game and moved on with the poor decision of banking on Shawne Merriman. Today we reach the third-darkest cloud on the season—the rise and fall of starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Bills concluded one of the more irritating campaigns in franchise history and no one was more front and center than quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Among those genuinely in early consideration for NFL Most Valuable Player through seven weeks, Fitzpatrick received a colossal contract extension in late October and almost without delay suffered through an atrocious second half that had fans and critics alike once again questioning the aptitude of the organization’s decision makers.
Things undoubtedly began promising for the heavily bearded gunslinger. He threw seven touchdown passes and just one interception as Buffalo started the season with a pair of wins against AFC West foes Kansas City and Oakland.
Fitzpatrick and his team’s pristine moment came in week three against New England. There he did what many considered unthinkable—outplaying Tom Brady. Fitzpatrick went 27-of-40 for 369 yards passing as the Bills finally knocked off the Patriots, 34-31.
With three wins to start the season, including a win over a team they lost to the previous 18 times, even the most circumspect fans couldn’t help but let hopefulness set in.
Fitzpatrick continued to play decent over the next three weeks despite two of the games resulting in three-point Bills losses.
Buffalo headed to the bye week at 4-2 with Fitzpatrick among the NFL leaders in passer rating. Over the prior few weeks, rumors swirled that the seventh-year pro was on the verge of signing a major extension. That became a reality on October 28 after the club announced Fitzpatrick put his John Hancock on a six-year, $59 million extension that made him the highest paid player in franchise history.
Things didn’t instantly turn bad for Fitzpatrick and the offense. The Harvard grad celebrated his newfound wealth by completing 21-of-27 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns in Toronto as the Bills embarrassed the Washington Redskins 23-0 to improve to 5-2.
Unfortunately for Fitzpatrick, the offense and his team as a whole, the Toronto game was far and away the best performance they had left in the tank. As we all know now, the season completely went into the tank with the Bills dropping eight of their final nine games to finish 6-10 and out of the playoffs for a 12th straight year.
Fitzpatrick in particular was very bad over the final two-plus months. Numbers may not always tell the whole story but in this case— categorically don’t lie either.
Here’s just a few of the hideous statistics Fitzpatrick compiled in the few months after inking his monster deal:
♦ Nine interceptions over his last 4 weeks.
♦ 10 touchdowns, 16 interceptions over his last nine games.
♦ 89 passer rating or worse in eight of his last nine games
♦ A long completion of less than 30 yards in four of his last eight games.
Fitzpatrick doesn’t exclusively deserve blame for the Bills offense sputtering over the final nine weeks. Injuries to Fred Jackson, Eric Wood, Donald Jones, Scott Chandler and others clearly had an affect on personnel. The defense didn’t do the team many favors either by constantly putting the unit in unfavorable spots.
Fitz also took a shot in the ribs against the Redskins and while it didn’t force him to miss any time, people inside the organization say definitely had a negative affect on his body.
At the end of the day, however, this team will only go as far as Fitzpatrick will take them. If they want that road to lead to the playoffs next season, Fitzpatrick needs to do some serious improving. His numbers as a whole may have looked impressive to the naked eye, but the Bills will never be winners if his performance going forward remains as erratic as this past year.