During an up-and-down 2010 season, Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick turned the ball over 20 times in 13 games, tossing 15 interceptions and losing five fumbles. Seven of those 20 turnovers came in two games against - you guessed it - the New England Patriots, who picked him off five times and recovered two fumbles.
This season, Fitzpatrick has turned it over just once (and been sacked once) through two games en route to guiding the NFL's highest-scoring offense and being the league's sixth-rated passer through two weeks. Alas, here come the Patriots, who clearly had his number last season.
New England's secondary is, however, banged up. When we discussed the team's pass rush yesterday, it became apparent that the team doesn't yet have a stand-out performer. Therefore, if Buffalo wants to play mistake-free football for four quarters - that's the only way they'll win - Fitzpatrick will effectively need to best Bill Belichick in a game of chess, with a little help from head coach Chan Gailey.
Belichick has long been masterful at devising game plans that are overtly difficult to solve. We won't mention anything about Fitzpatrick's collegiate background; suffice it to say he's an intelligent quarterback. Gailey will be responsible for Buffalo's offensive game plan, but Fitzpatrick will be largely responsible for adjusting to Belichick's wrinkles on the fly, and within the framework of that game plan, on Sunday afternoon. That's a monumental task for anyone.
It's an important point simply because, as previously mentioned, the Pats do not have a stand-out pass rusher, and they're beat up a bit in the back seven. Knowing how well Buffalo's offense has clicked in the first two games - and how prone to giving up big passing plays New England's has been - it's not hard to imagine a scenario developing wherein clearing the Belichick hurdle will be the only deterrent to another productive day from the offense.
Diagnosing coverages and blitzes, setting up protection schemes and making impeccable decisions have never been more important on game day than they will be on Sunday for Fitzpatrick. Knowing what Tom Brady and the Patriots can do offensively, the Bills can't afford to make mistakes of their own offensively. Ball security will be of the utmost importance, and if Fitzpatrick and Gailey can't go toe-to-toe with Belichick schematically, it could be a very long day in Orchard Park.