It's been a long, bumpy road for seventh-round draft pick Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo Bills fans who've believed in him. Being an Ivy League MVP doesn't mean much in the NFL, and after five years as a professional backup, Fitzpatrick seemed destined to see little time off the bench. There was little reason to think differently when he came to Buffalo in 2009. After the botched investment in Trent Edwards, Fitz stepped up as the starter, a role he's had off-and-on for over two years. Yet Fitz has never gone into a season as well-positioned to succeed as he is this year.
Buffalonians who've dared to believe that Fitz could help make the Bills into AFC East contenders have had to wait. Fitz has been surrounded by equal parts hope and hype as early as 2010, when he finally took the reins from "Captain Checkdown." Despite the fact that the Bills have yet to finish a season with the right results, Fitz has gone a long way in delivering on the promise.
Last year's disappointing 6-10 record might overshadow Fitz's real potential, especially since 2011 was the first season he went into as the undisputed starter. Nevertheless, the FO's 6-year $60 million dollar commitment to Fitz was a reasonable reward for leading the team to a 4-2 start. He'd come out of the gates that season with 7 passing TDs and a 109.6 passer rating after the first two weeks. As ESPN debuted its Total QBR stat, it had Fitz ranked second overall by Week 3, just below Tom Brady.
Nevertheless, there were plenty of factors working against Fitz last year. He might have been hosting unofficial workouts at his home, but Fitz's potential was undoubtedly affected by the lockout. By now, every Bills fan knows that he played with cracked ribs for more than half the season. His go-to target, Stevie Johnson, had troubles of his own thanks to a groin injury he'd suffered in training camp long before Week 1. That injury required surgery back in May. The decimated receiver corps didn't help matters much.
Despite the setbacks, Fitz ended the year with a pretty decent tally of 24 TDs. His 62% completion percentage might be respectable if it wasn't for the 23 interceptions. Inconsistent mechanics and a rib injury won't make it easy to be accurate.
Under the guidance of vet QB coach David Lee, Fitz's accuracy is set to improve big time. It's also worth noting that this year is the first full offseason he's had as the team's bona fide starter. With better throwing mechanics, a fully healthy SJ13, and what might just be the best O-line the team has had in the Fitz-era, bet on the Bills QB to defy expectations.
Taurus Londono grew up in Buffalo, NY where he saw the Buffalo Bills go to four straight Super Bowls. He's a lifelong fan of the team.