Some people act like the smartest guy in the room. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t acting.
But smarts get you only so far in the NFL. Sometimes, you need a good running back or two or a big, healthy offensive line or a quick receiver to bring out your best. Eight years removed from Harvard, six years removed from the Rams, Fitzpatrick has learned the lesson well.
“It is not something that I relate to very well,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said of his brainy QB. “I say all the time, ‘He knows a lot more than I do.’ I ask his opinion and we have a good give-and-take about what we need to do. He sees his picture extremely well, and I try to add the big picture thought process to it. Between the two of us, hopefully, we come up with something that is good enough to win with.”
Fitzpatrick has found a home in Buffalo, but he got his start in St. Louis. A seventh-round pick for Mike Martz in 2005, Fitzpatrick served as the Rams’ third quarterback until the 11th game of his rookie year. Starter Marc Bulger had been sidelined with a shoulder injury, then replacement Jamie Martin was injured in the second quarter with the Rams trailing the Houston Texans 24-3. Fitzpatrick engineered a 33-27 overtime victory, which earned him three more starts. He couldn’t match his debut performance, though, and was replaced by Martin in a game against the Eagles.
“I feel like it was a long, long time ago,” Fitzpatrick said. “There are not a whole lot of people left whether it is around the building or on the team. … I have a lot of fond memories just in St. Louis in general. That is where my first son was born. I have got fond memories of being there.”
He served as third quarterback again in 2006, Scott Linehan’s first as head coach, behind Bulger and Gus Frerotte, but didn’t play.
“I still talk to Gus Frerotte a good amount and I am still in touch with Bulger,” he said. “I usually see Linehan once a year, usually in the preseason. Anytime I run into those guys I make sure to pull them aside and talk to them a little bit.”
When Linehan opted for just two QBs, the Rams traded Fitzpatrick to the Bengals for a seventh-round pick that they used to move up and draft wide receiver Keenan Burton.
“It was probably very naïve of me at the time, that they had been thinking of just going with two quarterbacks,” Fitzpatrick said. “Everything has worked out well for me. I got traded to Cincinnati and had a great opportunity to play there. Then here with Buffalo.”
He signed with Buffalo early in 2009 and engaged in a see-saw battle for the starting job throughout 2009 and into the 2010 season, when Gailey decided on Fitzpatrick two games into the season. The next game, he rallied the Bills from a 17-point deficit to an 18-point victory. He also was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month in September 2011, which ultimately led to a $59 million, six-year contract.
This year, though, has been disappointing for the 5-7 Bills, who raised expectations by investing heavily in the free-agent market.
“He has got a lot of gunslinger in him,” Gailey said. “And you get a lot of touchdown passes, but you get some interceptions that go along with that. What we are trying to do is cut down on the interceptions, but still keep that gunslinger mode in him. That is a hard thing to do breaking a guy of that.”
After throwing seven interceptions in the first four games, Fitzpatrick has thrown five in the past eight. The Bills have relied on their running game, ranked fourth in the NFL, thanks to running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, in addition to Fitzpatrick’s wiles.
“He’s really smart, we know that, and he’s healthy,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “The run game is helping them considerably, helps their passing game. In obvious passing situations, he’s very dangerous because he’s very athletic. He’s mobile. He’ll pull the ball down and run, extend drives, pick up first downs.”
Entering Sunday’s game in Buffalo, the Bills and Rams find themselves in similar positions, just outside the final playoff spot with a glimmer of hope to make the postseason. Buffalo has won two of the past three, including 34-18 over Jacksonville last week.
“We have started to find a little bit of a groove,” Fitzpatrick said. “For us, the only way we have a shot is if we win out. Last week was a nice win for us just to gain some momentum. … I mean there is an outside hope. Anything that keeps you going, but as a professional, you have to be able to just go out there and put everything you have into the game.”