ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills throws a pass to Scott Chandler #84 against the Oakland Raiders at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September18, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo won 38-35. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
With Buffalo Bills training camp kicking off this week and football ready to begin anew, fans are turning their focus from the minutiae of intensive off-season analysis to bigger-picture issues. Case in point: reader Rob is interested in finding reasons to hope that Ryan Fitzpatrick can lead the Bills to the post-season and beyond.
"Hey Brian," Rob writes, "at this point we all know what Fitzpatrick is. But I'm looking for some hope. Can you just write an article about Fitzpatrick's three best games with Buffalo so I can be happy when training camp starts? :)"
I'm not in the business of handing out hope like candy, Rob. I picked the three games that I believe were Fitzpatrick's best efforts over the last two seasons, and even those games show Fitzpatrick's true colors as a true "streak shooter," to borrow a basketball phrase.
In pinpointing the three games I believe were Fitzpatrick's best, I wanted to find games where he flashed dominance. To my eye, Fitzpatrick's longest stretches of dominating football came in three very notable come-from-behind victories. Very briefly, let's recap.
3. Week 3, 2011: Bills 34, Patriots 31
In helping to end a 15-game losing streak to a hated New England team, Fitzpatrick led the Bills out of a 21-0 deficit, throwing for 369 yards and two touchdowns in doing so. Statistically, this may not have been Fitzpatrick's best effort, but it was the franchise's most impressive win in recent memory, and Fitzpatrick had a big hand in that.
2. Week 11, 2010: Bills 49, Bengals 31
Cincinnati opened up a 28-7 lead early in this one thanks in large part to several Fitzpatrick miscues, but the Bills ended the game on a 42-3 run as Fitzpatrick shredded the Bengals to the tune of 316 yards and four touchdowns on the day. This game was the birth of Fitzpatrick-to-Stevie Johnson as a legitimate thing.
1. Week 2, 2011: Bills 38, Raiders 35
Again, this may not have been Fitzpatrick's best statistical performance, but in erasing an 18-point halftime lead, Fitzpatrick led Buffalo's offense on five touchdown drives in five second-half possessions to steal a game that Buffalo's defense should have lost them. Buffalo's offense has never been as efficient post-Jim Kelly as it was for one half against Oakland.
In all three of these games, Fitzpatrick was masterful for stretches in helping lead massive comebacks. But he was also instrumental in helping the Bengals, Raiders and Patriots amass a combined 60-point hole to dig out of. Take a look at the statistical breakdown, which reveals the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Fitzpatrick's best games in Buffalo.
|As CIN/OAK/NE were building a 60-point deficit|
|As the Bills were erasing the 60-point deficit|
Yeah, you're reading that right: there's a 100-point quarterback rating difference between Fitzpatrick at the start of the three comeback wins and while the comebacks were actually in progress. In all three cases, he went from playing awful football to playing dominant football almost instantaneously.
With proper apologies to Rob, then, it's hard to even look at three of Fitzpatrick's best and most memorable performances under Chan Gailey without reaching the same conclusion: Fitzpatrick can be maddening, he can be masterful, and he can land at either extreme in the blink of an eye.