Barnwell's latest posting at Grantland, found at http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8377155/we-seem-keep-redefining-jay-cutler-every-four-quarters, discusses fan and media expectations for Jay Cutler that have been built up due to his personality, rather than the scope of his abilities. There is a lot to like in his article, and his ideas can really be applied to any player. I highly suggest checking it out.
Grantland.com is pretty much just what you'd expect from the internet offspring of ESPN and Bill Simmons. It's often shrill, overwrought with horrible pop culture references, undeservedly self-satisfied, and just downright annoying. To his credit, though, Simmons has been smart enough to have some very talented writers contribute to the site. Journalists such as Charles P. Pierce (!), Chris Brown, Wright Thompson, and Rafe Bartholomew have added content, and they are all excellent sportswriters. Bill's NFL protégé, Bill Barnwell, frequently falls into this category as well.
Part of Barnwell's argument stems from the fact that because of both Cutler's uneven play and lack of charisma, fan expectations soar and plummet to unreasonable extremes. Barnwell makes some great comparisons with Cutler to Brett Favre and Tom Brady, both of whom have had a lot of multiple interception games and have been known to rip on their teammates. Yet Brady and Favre seem to get a pass for this behavior, since they were fortunate enough to win a Super Bowl relatively early in their careers. Barnwell suggests that we stop defining these players by the success of their teams or the perception of their character, and realize that "Favre is Favre. Brady is Brady. Let's accept that Cutler is going to be Cutler." Cutler, by his estimation, is a very good quarterback who is seen as disinterested and angry, which colors what fans and the media see in his play on the field. I agree with this assessment.
His thoughts on these players made me think about how we perceive Ryan Fitzpatrick. What we saw from Fitz in the Jets game wasn't shocking. We've all seen him deliver a godawful performance like that before. Moreover, games like the 2011 comebacks against the Raiders and Patriots shouldn't be surprising, either. Playing so badly against the Jets last week doesn't make him terrible any more than him playing so well against them in the second game against New York last year made him terrific.
Fitzpatrick's play in the sum of these, and all of his other games, shows exactly what he is - not a great quarterback like Brady, or a good quarterback like Cutler. He's an average quarterback, capable of both good games and bad, and usually in similar doses. Simply because he is seen as gutsy, or more intelligent than other quarterbacks, or due to the fact that he is well-liked in the locker room does not change the results on the field. Whether or not Buffalo makes the playoffs this year or finishes with double digits in the loss column, Fitz has been in the league long enough for all of us to know that he is what he is. Expecting him to suddenly "change" is unfair and not a sound way to reason.
Over the past several years, rule changes and officiating have favored the offense and in particular the passing game. Given our awareness of the effects of the violence inherent in football, these changes will likely be even more forgiving towards the offense in the coming years. Therefore, in the NFL, the importance of having a great quarterback has never been more defined. Every team that is consistently successful does so with a very good, if not elite, quarterback at the helm. While Ryan's teammates seem to love his determination, and while Buffalo's front office may think that Fitz is above average, his play throughout his career does not suggest this, and the time has come to move on.
No matter what the results of this season are (barring the miraculous), it is absolutely imperative that the Bills find a franchise quarterback as quickly as possible.
The reality is, average just isn't acceptable anymore - regardless of your perception of Ryan Fitzpatrick.