Last week, we held a discussion seeking better play from Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick against an opponent he'd struggled against in two previous games, the Kansas City Chiefs. It was not an unreasonable or unwarranted discussion; Fitzpatrick had struggled mightily (52.9 percent completions, 4.54 yards per attempt) in two previous games at Arrowhead Stadium with Buffalo.
To say that the Bills did, in fact, get better play from Fitzpatrick yesterday would be an understatement. Fitzpatrick shredded the Chiefs, completing 17 of 25 passes for 208 yards with four touchdowns in the team's 41-7 romp. In 14 career starts working with Chan Gailey, Fitzpatrick has thrown for four touchdowns in a game on three separate occasions.
Fitzpatrick was not perfect - he dealt with some ball placement issues in a second quarter that could've produced far more than just six points - but he was incredibly efficient, spreading the ball between six different targets and milking production out of a cast of misfit receivers, led by tight end Scott Chandler (five catches, 63 yards, two scores).
Much was made heading into yesterday's contest about the fact that Fitzpatrick, a seventh-year pro, would be making his first opening day start as the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback for an NFL team. Many openly wondered if Fitzpatrick was up to the challenge, even after putting up 3,000 passing yards and 23 touchdowns (with 15 interceptions) in 13 starts under Gailey in 2010. Now he's up to 27 touchdowns in 14 starts, and has shown beyond doubt that he has the ability to put up big numbers in Gailey's offense.
The former seventh-round draft pick is getting those numbers alongside that aforementioned ragtag group of receivers that call themselves the "Goon Squad"; between receivers Stevie Johnson (a 2008 seventh-round pick), David Nelson and Donald Jones (2010 undrafted free agents) and Chandler (signed off of Dallas' practice squad), Fitzpatrick completed 15 passes for 198 yards and all four of his touchdowns.
It's a ragtag group (for the most part) blocking up front, too, and Gailey went out of his way to praise the team's pass protection in the victory.
"The key to the whole thing is pass protection," said Gailey. "I think we got sacked one time - Erik (Pears) let the guy get around the corner - we got hit maybe two more times, but other than that, Fitz was able to stand back there and see things, and throw it where he needed to throw it. The pass protection was huge for us today."
It's just Week 1, and the defenses are going to get tougher and more diverse as the season progresses. It's safe to say that Buffalo's passing offense, under the dictation of Gailey and the execution of Fitzpatrick, is nonetheless off to a rousing start - and Fitzpatrick may have just jump-started his run to a big pay day. He is, after all, currently the highest-rated passer in the NFL (133.0).