Those more in tune with reality, however, might believe otherwise.
Buffalo is 3-3 through the first five weeks of the 2012 season. Fitzpatrick’s quarterbacking helped foster two of those three wins, but was also largely responsible for the three loses.
While throwing for 12 touchdowns and 1,200-plus yards on the season, he’s also led his team into way too many losing situations. Count a pick-six against the Jets and four interceptions in the Patriots game as prime examples.
The Bills are one of four teams in the AFC East that are tied atop a division that suddenly stands on equal footing. They will rely on Fitzpatrick—and not their star-studded but incapable defense—to break away from the pack and lead them back into playoff contention.
The question is: Can he even do it?
Let’s diagnose the interrelated reasons why Fitzpatrick will ultimately fail in taking the Bills to the playoffs.
The Contract Burden + Continuing Decline + Zero Big-Game Experience + Reliance on the Running Game
It’s not every day that the normal Joe receives an eight-figure guaranteed contract.
For Harvard grads, perhaps it’s not so unusual. For Fitzpatrick, though, it may have amounted to a burden that he could never quite overcome.
The unassuming Fitzpatrick signed a seven-year, $62 million contract at a similar time last year. Life just wouldn’t be the same with $24 million guaranteed in the proverbial—and literal—back pocket.
Before signing the massive deal in 2011, he threw 12 touchdowns against half that many interceptions. He compiled a 95.4 passer rating and helped produce four wins in the first six games. The guy was consistent and effective.
Then after leading the charge in a 23-0 winning effort against the Redskins for the Bills’ fifth win, Fitz proceeded to lose the next seven, and eight out of nine in total.
Losing nearly all remaining nine games on the schedule was indicative of a total team failure. That said, much of the responsibility fell on the quarterback.
Fitzpatrick threw 10 touchdowns, and almost doubled that amount with 16 interceptions. He also saw his passer rating plummet to 65.2 during the same time period.
Was this purely a coincidence, or a mere reflection of the curious timing of his contract signing and performance decline?
When looking at his production so far in 2012, this was—and is—by all means a continuing trend in the making.
His dozen touchdown throws on the season are completely negated by two predictable developments: his front-running/mop-up-time production, and his tendency to disappear against elite defenses.
He threw three touchdowns in Week 1 when the Jets had essentially already won the game late in the third quarter with the score at 41-7. Against the Patriots three weeks later, he did the opposite by tossing three scores early on, but then subsequently coughed up as many turnovers as the Bills lost by 24.
Seven touchdowns in two games are impressive; seven picks in as many games are not.
Fitzpatrick’s disappearing acts came in matchups featuring the top-ranked 49ers’ and Cardinals’ defenses. He completed just 59 percent of his passes, while throwing zero touchdowns, one interception and amassing a dismal 37.9 total quarterback rating.
Furthermore, the Bills’ field general has not one ounce of experience leading his team in battle in critical moments on the NFL gridiron.
The first two interrelated factors of the contract burden, and continuing decline because of it, will prevent Fitzpatrick from ever reaching the playoffs and learning the crucial lessons involved with January football.
Lastly, Fitzpatrick has not proven himself as a quarterback who can lead without the benefit of a strong running game.
In 2011, either Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller ran for over 100 yards or scored a touchdown in all six Buffalo victories. They had to dominate for Fitz to succeed.
He’s relied on the same support in 2012 in all of the Bills’ wins except for the matchup with the hapless Browns.
A purely defunct defense notwithstanding, Fitzpatrick can neither lead the Bills to the postseason in 2012, nor in the future.
He is a quarterback who will never be deemed worthy of his outrageous contract; consequently, he’s just as likely to contribute to the winning efforts of the opposition as he is to his own team.
That—quite simply—is not a recipe for playoff success.
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