When the Buffalo Bills released Vince Young and traded for Tarvaris Jackson this week, the focus was immediately increased on a backup quarterback competition that was already the center of attention for many. Coupled with a groin injury to third-stringer Brad Smith, the quarterback play from Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyler Thigpen was the focal point of the team's post-game comments after last night's pre-season concluding loss to the Detroit Lions.
After Fitzpatrick led the team on a scoring drive, going 5-for-5 with a touchdown pass, he sat the rest of the night. After the game, he did not stray from his passive rhetoric regarding the pre-season. He's maintained that exhibition play simply doesn't mean as much as people believe.
"Yeah, not much, but it’s better than going out there and not doing anything I guess. So that was certainly a positive," said Fitzpatrick plainly when asked about his final pre-season drive going well meant.Thigpen took over for all but a few plays of the rest of the game, and threw two interceptions. Thigpen and head coach Chan Gailey were quick to point out that both were the result of his arm being struck as he threw.
"Actually it was a guy in the left gap where he was throwing it to the left," said Gailey. "The guy reached right through the gap and hit it."
"Yeah, that’s very frustrating," said Thigpen of his interceptions being the result of hits. "I was telling coach that. Especially, you go out there and have a good performance and your two interceptions when somebody looks at the statistics and they were batted balls. Those are things that I don’t know exactly what happened on the play. It may be my fault, it may not be, but those are things we either need to correct or see what happened."
Following the first interception, Thigpen threw a touchdown pass as the Bills stormed back from a 21-point deficit.
"We came into the locker room and we were down 28-10 or whatever it was," said Thigpen after the game. "I said to the guys ‘They put up 28, we can put up 28.’ We came out there as an offense, first drive, and marched it down the field and scored and I think the next drive we scored, so we were right back in it. We knew what we were capable of once we started firing on all cylinders."
Gailey will have some questions to answer about the quarterback roster prior to the 9 PM deadline for roster cuts. Does Jackson know the offense well enough to be the primary backup in Week 1? Will Smith's injury keep him off the field against the Jets? Do either of those factors, individually or in conjunction, keep Thigpen on the roster?
"Tyler played good. He did," said Gailey. "He made it tough and it was all on the line. He did a good job."
Gailey also said he didn't believe Smith's injury would impact the roster decision, noting that he still did not know the severity of the groin injury.
"I don’t think so right now," Gailey said when asked. "Let’s see how bad it is first."
The biggest of those questions is Jackson's acclimation to the offense. He threw one pass that was picked off with a few minutes remaining in the contest. Gailey said when the former Seahawk and Viking arrived that there are only so many plays in the NFL, it's just different what you call them. Fitzpatrick has been in Jackson's situation before, and has been helping the newcomer as much as possible.
"I don’t want to bother him, but certainly talking about plays and my thought processes in what we’re doing as the game went on," said Fitzpatrick after the game. "Even with how we call the plays, the formations and what we’re trying to get accomplished with the run or the pass. Just talking about those little things I’m sure it helped a little bit."
Fitzpatrick knows the choices won't be easy for Gailey and GM Buddy Nix. He's not one to start offering advice, though.
"He’s got to make the tough decisions and figure out what’s best for our team," said Fitzpatrick of Gailey. "But for us, we obviously trust him 100 percent and we’re all for him and all behind him with whatever he wants to do."
Thigpen has been here before. He, for one, isn't worried.
"I guess (it will be) hectic for me, but those are the things where they’re in those positions and make those decisions," he said. "For me I just wanted to go out there and put on a good performance. Like coach said you’re going out and playing for yourself. You’re playing for the team the Buffalo Bills, but what you put on film is for 31 other teams. I was very fortunate to get that opportunity."