Bills To Start Fitzpatrick at Patriots, Game Could Be Close For Other Reasons

Mark CrystelContributor IIISeptember 22, 2010

Fitzpatrick was ineffective in relief of Carson Palmer in 2008, but much better in relief last season with the Bills
Fitzpatrick was ineffective in relief of Carson Palmer in 2008, but much better in relief last season with the BillsJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In 1988, the Pittsburgh Steelers opened the season with a 51-0 loss followed by a 41-10 loss. It doesn’t get much worse than that. The surprising thing is, they won game three outright against the Vikings, as an 8 point underdog.

Ten years later the expansion Browns started slow as expected, with a pair of losses to the tune of 43-0 and 26-9. They were essentially written off in week three as a 13 point underdog, but kept it close at Baltimore and lost by just a touchdown.

And just recently in 2008, the Bengals opened with a pair of offensively anemic games at Baltimore and vs. Tennessee, scoring just one touchdown in each game. Their next game was at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, who were fresh off a 28 point win at Saint Louis. As a 13 point underdog, the Bengals took that game to overtime and lost by a field goal.

Now the Bills are coming off a pair of offensively vacant performances and go into New England, seemingly with only a prayer.

Can the Bills keep it close?

The chances could be better than many may realize.

After witnessing a Bills offense that constantly had trouble moving the ball in the first two games, Bills coach Chan Gailey pulled the plug on Trent Edwards and will start Ryan Fitzpatrick in relief at New England

Fitzpatrick has been in this situation before.

In 2008 he replaced an injured Carson Palmer early in the season, but did virtually nothing offensively for the remainder of his starts.

Following that season he was traded to the Bills, and last season he played the role of reliever once again. This time it was after a 24 point loss at Tennessee. His first game at Jacksonville went mediocre, with the Bills losing by just a field goal. After that, Fitzpatrick returned home and guided the Bills to a 31-14 win over Miami. Four of their next five games were either wins or close losses.

I’m not suggesting by any means that this Harvard product will suddenly come in and light up the QB spot so bright that the Bills will do something they haven’t done since 2003, and that’s beat New England. We all know how tough the Patriots are at home.

However, don't automatically assume another blowout.

Western New York football buffs with good memories might be the first to tell you the Buffalo Bills defense typically doesn’t give up 30+ points in consecutive games. Actually, that’s something their defense has done just once since 2002 in the Gregg Williams era.

They just gave up 35 points to Green Bay. Now go back and look at all the time the Bills defense gave up 30+ points in a game since 2002, and you’ll find that happened 23 times.

What you won’t find in 22 of the 23 occurrences is the Bills doing it again in the next game. As a matter of fact, they reduced their points allowed in that next game by an average of 21 points. It’s only natural to assume. After all, if they give up 35 points every game they shouldn’t be in the NFL to begin with, should they?

It’s true that the current defensive personnel differs from years past, but the premises is still the same. After a 27 point loss at Green Bay and allowing 34 points, it’s natural that any defense will be motivated to make a statement, especially in a division rivalry.

Ryan Fitzpatrick probably isn’t the savior the Bills are in desperate need of right now, but he can’t be much worse than Trent Edwards.

On the flip side, Tom Brady just got paid more money than any other NFL football player. Whether or not if affects his play has yet to be seen, and a playoff appearance will probably be a good judge of that.

The Pats did score a pair of non-offensive touchdowns vs. Cincinnati, and "only" two touchdowns at New York. They should get some production in this game, but will the Bills allow another 34 points?

Last week was a good time to assume the Bills would get blown out, and they did just that at Green Bay. This is a different week. Even the Rams held their own last season the second time they were a 14 point underdog to the Saints. Later in the season they did it again, this time vs. the Texans, with a new QB making a start for the Rams. What was his name again? Was it Keith Null?

The Bills look like they are in for a dismal season, so expecting three or four wins is well within reason. Many teams have started the season with a pair of low offensive output games, but not all of them get blown out in the third game (by more than 14 points). Actually you’ll find less than 30% of them do, in the last 20 years.

By the way, those 1988 Pittsburgh Steelers….they actually ended up making the playoffs.