Kyle Orton is in the midst of the strongest stretch of quarterback play that the Buffalo Bills have seen since the first seven weeks of the 2011 season.
In his four games as the starter since taking over for EJ Manuel in Week 5, Orton and the Bills have a 3-1 record. The veteran is completing 67.4 percent of his passes (95 completions on 141 attempts) at 8.0 yards per attempt (1,128 yards total), with nine touchdowns, three interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 104.0. That rating is the sixth-best in the NFL among quarterbacks that have attempted at least 100 passes this season. He has also taken 17 sacks and lost two fumbles.
Orton, of course, only signed with the Bills 62 days ago today, inking a lucrative two-year contract on August 29, just prior to the start of the regular season. Because the second year of that deal (i.e. the 2015 season) is a player option - meaning that Orton can void it and hit unrestricted free agency next spring - some Bills fans have already begun campaigning for Orton to receive a new deal in Buffalo. (Yes, that is seriously happening.)
That, too, is something that has not happened for the Bills since 2011.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was the AFC Offensive Player of the Month in September of 2011, and played the best football of his professional career in leading the Bills to a 5-2 start that season. In those seven games, he completed 67.7 percent of his passes (155 of 229) at 7.6 yards per attempt (1,739 yards) with 14 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 97.8. He also lost one fumble and took a mere eight sacks in that time frame.
2011 also happened to be a contract year for Fitzpatrick; after his hot start, the Bills moved pretty quickly to lock him up long-term with a six-year, $59 million contract extension.
The circumstances between then and now are, of course, different. Fitzpatrick had not yet turned 29 when he signed his contract, while Orton is a couple of weeks away from turning 32. Orton has the option of staying in Buffalo next season at a $5.5 million salary, whereas Fitzpatrick would have simply become an unrestricted free agent. The sample size with Orton is also significantly smaller; Fitzpatrick had been in Buffalo for parts of three seasons at the time he signed, whereas again, Orton has barely been in town for two months.
Perhaps the most important difference: the presence of Manuel, a talented prospect in his own right that the team can still try to sell as the future of the position. When Fitzpatrick signed, he became the future. That deal made him the franchise quarterback.
For now, the idea that Orton might be a player the Bills want to lock in beyond the 2015 season is a nascent one, and far less urgent than the Fitzpatrick scenario in 2011 by a large margin. For that reason, it's probably a bit silly to even be bringing it up in a bye week post. Still... this is probably an idea that should be in the back of the minds of Bills fans. There are no guarantees with Manuel, and even with the disaster that was the Fitzpatrick contract fresh in our memories, that's a situation that may come up again if Orton can continue at or near his current level of play.