Ryan Fitzpatrick is the franchise quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, there's no doubting that. Why is there no doubting that? Fitz was able to ink a six-year, $59 million contract extension with $24 million guaranteed during the 2011 season.
Financially, the investment put into Fitzpatrick is enough to secure him the job, regardless of how shaky he has looked. But the problem is that Fitz is perhaps the most wildly inconsistent quarterback in the NFL.
In 2011, a 5-2 start turned into a 6-10 record with 23 interceptions. Okay, so Fitzpatrick suffered through rib injuries. Give him the benefit of the doubt. But through four games in 2012, Fitzpatrick has seven interceptions.
His 12 touchdowns this season are misleading, as a good portion of his scores came in garbage time of big AFC East losses to New York and New England.
In a season where hundreds of millions were invested into the Bills in an effort to put the best product possible on the field, Fitzpatrick just isn't cutting it. The major problem is that coaches never know which Ryan Fitzpatrick will show up on Sundays. It could be the player who has been extremely clutch in the big moments or it could be the player who makes horrible decisions.
Buffalo's main problem in this quarterback situation is that there is no true heat on Fitzpatrick.
Come on, is Tyler Thigpen really a threat to start? If you remember correctly, Vince Young had a better preseason than Thigpen, but he was kept on the squad for personnel reasons. Remember Tarvaris Jackson, the quarterback Buffalo traded for? He has yet to even dress for a game. Brad Smith hasn't been a quarterback since his days at Missouri and is better suited as a receiver.
Obviously, Fitzpatrick and the coaching staff are disappointed with the fact that Fitz is a streaky quarterback. But through it all, his play has been tolerated.
Not once has Chan Gailey called out Fitzpatrick or questioned his quarterback to the media. After Bills losses, the coaches and players tend to apologize for lousy performances and vow to be better. But obviously, Fitzpatrick needs to be inspired. He needs to be called out to see how he responds. Nobody knows if Fitzpatrick will sulk under pressure or come out looking like the franchise quarterback he can be.
Jackson has had more than enough time to have a decent grasp of the offense and should at least dress. If Fitz comes out miserably again, he now knows there is a capable player on the bench waiting for an opportunity to run with it.
But most importantly, the situation is not fair to the team. If Fitzpatrick continues to be inconsistent, which he has been for a period of time, the rest of the team will suffer.
Look at the 2011 Denver Broncos. A 1-4 start turned into a AFC West berth and divisional round playoff appearance. Sure, the Bills have no Tim Tebow on their team, but nobody knows how they will respond to a change.
The quarterback job still belongs to Fitzpatrick and he deserves it, for now. But how many more three- and four-interception games will be tolerated before enough is enough? How many more blowouts to AFC East rivals until Gailey actually loses his job? Remember, Fitzpatrick's performance is a reflection of Gailey and if these blowouts continue, it will make Gailey look bad.
All that is needed is some sort of adversity to see Fitzpatrick's true character. How will he respond to criticism from his coaches or from a backup quarterback who is making a case to start?
This whole situation could be avoided if there was some level of consistency from Fitz, but there isn't. Until he can settle down and play like a franchise quarterback, he will continue to take some heat from the media.
What he really needs is some sort of consequences for his play, or it will be another long decade in Buffalo.