December 21, 2011
At this point, it feels nostalgic to look back at a time when we all thought the Buffalo Bills were good. In mid-October, they were 4-2, with high-profile wins over the Patriots and Eagles, and they looked like they'd be challenging the Pats for the AFC East title.
Today, they're 5-9 and owners of a seven-game losing streak. They are mathematically prohibited from making the playoffs.
Back in Week 6, it wasn't crazy to think of Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as an MVP candidate. Maybe he wasn't ever the leader, but a candidate, sure. The football world felt so good about him that when the Bills decided to give him a six-year, $59 million contract extension ($24 million guaranteed), no one really seemed to think it was a bad idea.
Today, pretty much everyone does. The numbers show a dramatic collapse in his performance.
Weeks 1 through 6:
In Week 7, the Bills had a bye and gave Fitzpatrick the big paper. And then …
Weeks 8 through 15:
Using 2011 statistical similarity, it's as if the Bills played the first six games of the season with Matt Schaub as their quarterback, and the last eight games with Curtis Painter as their quarterback. Curtis Painter does not make for a Merry Christmas.
Unfortunately, there's no simple and ready explanation for Fitzpatrick's fade, either. They've had a couple of injuries on the offensive side of the ball, with Fred Jackson and center Eric Wood going down, but I don't think that explains a near 30-point drop in quarterback rating. A lot of teams have had devastating injuries ‒ they don't collapse quite like that.
We can pretty safely dismiss the contract extension itself as an explanation. I don't see any evidence that Ryan Fitzpatrick got paid and then quit. Nothing in his play suggests that, and no coaches or teammates have hinted about being displeased with his effort.
I don't have the answer. All I know is that the nose-dive happened quickly and thoroughly, and that I was fooled. I didn't believe the early season performance was a fluke or a flash in the pan. But if I was fooled, so was the Bills organization, and now it's got to find a way to get Fitzpatrick back to the form that earned him the contract in the first place. If not, that contract could put the Bills behind the eight ball for years.
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