TEMPE, Ariz. – If Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick seems unusually calm in the wake of his team’s disastrous performances the past two weeks, well, that’s because he is.
“He’s always been that way,” said Mike Reardon, Fitzpatrick’s coach at Gilbert Highland High School. “Initially, I didn’t know how to take him. I thought he was a teenager just shutting me off, but he wasn’t at all. He absorbed everything, and he adapted to everything.”
As an example, Reardon cites a game during Fitzpatrick’s junior year against state powerhouse Chandler Hamilton. The Hawks were down 17-0 early, and Reardon was venting his frustration with his offense’s inability to run the game plan.
“I’m screaming: ‘Ryan you’ve got to take control of that huddle! You’ve got to get these guys going! We look like we’re intimidated!’ ” Reardon said.
“He bends down and pull up his socks, so I said, ‘Ryan, are you even listening to me?’ He says, ‘Yeah,’ and that was it. He didn’t say another word. He just went back on the field, we come back and beat them, I think 39-17, and it was mostly because of him.”
High school hurdles are a bit lower than NFL hurdles, of course, and Fitzpatrick has a mountain to climb after the Bills were blown out in consecutive weeks – 52-28 by New England; 45-3 by San Francisco – to fall to 2-3.
Were it not for the Bills’ 31st-ranked defense (449.4 yards per game, 35.2 points per game), Fitzpatrick might be the No. 1 target in Buffalo fans’ crosshairs. He has thrown eight interceptions, which is tied for the third most in the league behind Brandon Weeden’s and Matt Cassel’s nine picks. He’s completing just 58.3 percent of his passes, which ranks 25th.
Granted, Fitzpatrick also has the third-most TD passes (12) — behind Drew Brees and Matt Ryan — but when you sign a six-year, $59 million extension, as Fitzpatrick did last fall, expectations are higher.
“This is a production business, and I think everybody knows that,” Fitzpatrick said. “(But) I don’t think I need to sit and put that on my shoulders every week and every play. I don’t think about, ‘I’ve got to make this play or else … We’ve got to win this game or else …’ I think if you do that and you start pressing, then you’re not going to be effective.”
In that sense, Fitzpatrick admitted it’s nice to return home to his comfort zone where he can see extended family, including his parents. The Bills are practicing at Arizona State University all week in preparation for this week’s game against the Cardinals, rather than flying back across country from last week’s game in San Francisco.
Fitzpatrick’s parents attended ASU and met there. He attended many games when Jake Plummer, Keith Poole and Pat Tillman were roaming the fields, so the memories have come flooding back. So have the comforts of home, like his mom’s fattening but irresistible macaroni and cheese.
But if you were expecting Fitzpatrick to limp home and cry in his mom’s arms this week, you’d fail to understand the man.
“I’m a guy that internalizes a lot of stuff. I’m not a guy that’s going to outwardly talk about feelings and stuff like that,” he said. “I’m not going to be seeking counsel and help. I’m a pretty stable guy, but it’s nice to be able to get a home-cooked meal from Mom.”
Fitzpatrick’s story is well known in Valley circles. While some lamented the fact that he landed just one Division I scholarship offer – from Eastern Washington – Fitzpatrick knew all along he wanted to get the best education possible. It doesn’t get much better than Harvard.
“I think it helped him because they ran an offense that suited his abilities,” Reardon said. “When he came out, everybody already knew he was smart, but they could also see the kid could play.”
The Rams saw enough to draft him in the seventh round in 2005. After two seasons as a backup in St. Louis, and two more in Cincinnati, he has spent the past four seasons in Buffalo, starting 42 games.
Bills coach Chan Gailey sees no reason to contemplate a change.
“He and I talk about quarterback play and what we expect and what we want and don’t want and what we like and don’t like,” Gailey said. “He knows exactly what he has to do. I’ve seen him do it too many times. He hasn’t hit a couple passes that we all wish he had, but I think he can do it, and I think he will do it.”
Why is Gailey so confident?
“Because he plays the game and studies the game the way you’re supposed to play the game and the way you’re supposed to study the game,” he said.
Without fanfare. Without bravado. Without drama.
“I’ve got to go out there and just play,” Fitzpatrick said. “I guess that’s the biggest thing for me.”