Edwards can't practice; Fitzpatrick likely to start

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Buffalo Bills coach Dick Jauron couldn't resist cracking a joke when asked about sharing an Ivy League background with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. "Let me think if I understand this question," Jauron said with a grin after practice Wednesday, when reminded that he attended Yale and Fitzpatrick went to Harvard. "Are we kindred souls? Do we have a secret handshake? No." Maybe not, but it's no secret that both of their immediate futures are suddenly connected if the Bills (2-4) and their still-sputtering offense intend to mount any type of midseason turnaround.

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With starter Trent Edwards unable to practice or attend team meetings after sustaining a concussion last weekend, Fitzpatrick is expected to make his first start of the season at Carolina (2-3) on Sunday. Though Jauron wouldn't rule out Edwards, he certainly didn't hide how impressed he was with the job Fitzpatrick did in stepping in and overcoming a 10-point deficit to produce a 16-13 overtime win over the New York Jets last weekend. "It was really an outstanding job," Jauron said. "I like him because he can throw it, he can direct it and hopefully he can get us another win." A victory would be a boost for Jauron, who's under heavy criticism less than two months into his fourth season. For Fitzpatrick, he prepares to take over at a time when Edwards' job also was being questioned because of a Bills offense that lacked efficiency or identity, and for his inability to effectively involve his two deep threats, receivers Terrell Owens and Lee Evans. Evans sidestepped a question when asked if Fitzpatrick had the potential to seize the starting job even when Edwards is healthy. "You know, we'll see," Evans said. "It's kind of hard to speculate on him right now. But we just hope Trent gets back healthy, gets himself together, and we'll move forward with that situation." Signed in free agency, Fitzpatrick is in his fifth year and coming off a season in which he gained plenty of experience with Cincinnati, where he closed the season making 12 straight starts after Carson Palmer was hurt. After a shaky start, Fitzpatrick helped the Bengals go 4-3-1 down the stretch, including winning his last three games. Though Edwards' injury isn't season-ending, Fitzpatrick finds himself in a familiar position. "I felt really comfortable out there on Sunday, and even today in practice," Fitzpatrick said. "The best part of being in this offense is the weapons. And we just have to find a way to get the ball in Terrell's hands and Lee's hands." What was additionally important is Fitzpatrick finally getting an opportunity to work with Owens and Evans in practice Wednesday after spending most of the year primarily running the Bills second unit. "It was really the first time I've thrown to them," he said. "That's the role of a backup, though. You have to be ready to go at any time. But it certainly helps to have a week's worth of preparation." Fitzpatrick's performance wasn't exactly stellar against the Jets. Battling gusting winds, he went 10 of 25 for 116 yards with a touchdown and interception. Taking advantage of the Bills defense generating six interceptions, Fitzpatrick and the offense produced 13 points in four quarters. That's exactly the number of points the Edwards-led offense had produced in losing its previous three games. Just as important, Fitzpatrick made a clear attempt to get Owens and Evans involved by targeting them a combined 15 times, including hitting Evans on a slant that produced a 37-yard touchdown to tie the score at 13. For Evans, it marked his longest reception in 12 games. "Well, I don't know why it hadn't been happening," Evans said. Evans expressed his respect for Fitzpatrick and, on three occasions, said he has trust in the backup. "He knows what he's seeing. And he's a pretty savvy quarterback," Evans said. "He takes advantage of what he's seeing. You just trust the guy. That's really what it just boils down to." Owens also has confidence in Fitzpatrick. "We know that Ryan has that experience," Owens said. "He'll put us in the right situations, and it's up to us to kind of make those plays materialize once he gets the ball in our hands."
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