At long last Bills think they have found their man

There have been a lot of fall starts in the Buffalo Bills’ search for a franchise quarterback to replace Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly.  They thought they had one in 3rd round pick Todd Collins in 1995.  He didn’t work out.  They thought they had one when they traded the #9 pick in the 1998 NFL draft for Jaguars back-up Rob Johnson.  He didn’t work out.  They thought they had one when they traded their 2003 1st round pick to the New England Patriots for Drew Bledsoe.  He didn’t quite work out either.

Since the retirement of Jim Kelly in 1996 10 different quarterbacks have started games for the Bills.  Todd Collins, Alex Van Pelt, Rob Johnson, Doug Flutie, Drew Bledsoe, J.P. Losman, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Brian Brohm.  Out of all of these guys Ryan Fitzpatrick this week became the first incumbent starting quarterback to secure a contract extension with the Bills.

Everyone knows the story on Fitzpatrick.  He went to Harvard and got a degree in economics.  He was a 7th round pick of the St. Louis Rams in the 2005 NFL draft.  After spending the 2005 and 2006 seasons with the Rams and making 3 starts Fitzpatrick was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals prior to the 2007 season for a 7th round pick in the 2008 draft.  Fitzpatrick spent two seasons on the Bengals, starting 12 games in 2008 for the injured Carson Palmer, before heading into unrestricted free agency prior to the 2009 season.  On February 27, 2009 the Buffalo Bills signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to a 3 year, 6.9 million contract to back-up former 3rd round pick and incumbent starter Trent Edwards.

The back-up label all but lasted 5 weeks when Trent Edwards was hurt in a game vrs. the Jets and Fitzpatrick came on in relief.  Fitzpatrick started 8 games that year and when new coach Chan Gailey came in before the 2010 season he named Trent Edwards the starter for that season.  That lasted 2 weeks when Edwards was benched in favor of Fitzpatrick, who has since started every game for the Bills with the exception of last season’s finale which he missed due to injury.

Heading into Sunday Fitzpatrick has started 27 games for the Bills, sporting a 12-15 record.  He is 516 for 870 for 5,899 yards, 44 touchdowns, 31 interceptions and a 81.8 quarterback rating.  Currently he is 8th all-time in Bills history in yards, 6th all-time in touchdowns, 8th all-time in completions, and 9th all-time in attempts.  He is only 28 years old and should have 4 or 5 prime years left.

The Buffalo Bills made a huge investment in Fitzpatrick when they signed him to a 6 year, 59 million dollar contract this week but it’s more than the gaudy numbers that Fitzpatrick has put up with the Bills that General Manager Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey valued.  Fitzpatrick is a captain and a team leader.  During the NFL lockout he worked out with his young receivers and let them stay at his Arizona home.  He is a leader on the field as well, and his poise has lead the Bills to two late game wins this year.  He also leads by example.  Two weeks ago the Bills lost to the Giants in large part because Fitzpatrick missed Stevie Johnson, who had beaten his man twice, and under threw the ball 5 yards short and into the hands of Giants DB Corey Webster.  Fitzpatrick took the loss on his shoulders and saying that he should have played better.  He is idolized by young receivers David Nelson, Donald Jones, and Naaman Roosevelt, who were all undrafted out of college and all play key roles in Fitzpatrick’s offense.

Is Fitzpatrick the answer to the Bills’ decade long woes?  Well, the Bills put large stock into Fitzpatrick this week in the hopes that yes, he is the answer.  One thing I know is that the Bills are in their best position since 2004 to make a late season run at the playoffs.  There are ten games left and the Bills will probably need 6 more wins, which would keep up the pace from the first 6.  Is Fitzpatrick the man that will take him to the promise land?  The Bills’ brass think so, and we will all soon find out.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

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About evonsports
30 year old sports enthusiast and aspiring writer from Boston.

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