Bills replace playoff objective with progress

No longer in playoff contention, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick
and the Buffalo Bills believe they still have something important
to compete for before the season is over.

Job security.

With questions being raised about his future as well as that of
coach Chan Gailey’s, Fitzpatrick can’t predict what changes might
be coming this offseason. What he and the team can control is
salvaging what’s left by using the final two games to show they’re
making progress.

That’s the argument Fitzpatrick laid out Monday, a day after an
embarrassing 50-17 loss to Seattle that formally knocked the Bills
(5-9) out of the playoff race for a 13th straight season.

”We all understand the situation we’re in right now,”
Fitzpatrick said. ”And I think we all understand the importance of
these last two games in terms of effort and the product that we put
on the field to show that we have made progress and there is hope
with the guys that we have in this locker room.”

Buffalo closes the year facing two AFC East rivals and a chance
to avoid finishing last in the division for a fifth consecutive
season. The Bills travel to play Miami (6-8) on Sunday, followed by
a home game against the New York Jets on Dec. 30.

So much for the high expectations the Bills had in opening the
season. They’ve instead been replaced by the familiar frustrations
of a franchise that’s spent much of the past decade spinning its
wheels.

Buffalo’s playoff drought is the NFL’s longest active streak.
And the team is also guaranteed to finish with a losing record for
an eighth straight season.

That’s not what Bills players and re-energized fans believed was
in store following a free-spending offseason in which the team made
a big splash three days into free agency by signing defensive end
Mario Williams to a six-year, $100 million contract.

Williams’ arrival was supposed to improve a defense that had
been one of the NFL’s leakiest. He has helped to improve the Bills’
pass rush, but the defense is still experiencing trouble in other
areas.

In giving up 50 points to Seattle, Buffalo became the eighth NFL
team to allow 45 points four times in one season, and the first
since the New York Jets did that in 1986, according to STATS LLC.
The NFL record is five 45-point games, shared by the 1950 Baltimore
Colts and 1966 New York Giants.

The Bills have now allowed 402 points this season, which already
ranks as the team’s fifth-worst total. The franchise low is 454
(1984).

”Just giving up too many big plays, simple as that,”
linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said. ”We didn’t get the results that
we were expecting or everyone else was expecting. So it is what it
is.”

The same holds true for an offense that was supposed to build on
last year, when it showed glimpses of a spark during a 6-10
finish.

Fitzpatrick is 65 yards passing short of his third consecutive
3,000-yard season, but he’s been inconsistent in having thrown 22
touchdowns versus 15 interceptions. He’s also coming off a sloppy
outing against the Seahawks in which he threw two interceptions and
lost a fumble on three consecutive drives to open the second
half.

That’s left Fitzpatrick unsure of his status some 14 months
since signing a six-year, $59 million contract extension.

”Yeah, that’s a great question,” Fitzpatrick said, when asked
if he feels he’s done enough to merit another shot at being the
starter. ”Unfortunately, the product on the field and the results,
especially the win-loss record, isn’t where it needs to be. And so,
again, I think, the last two games are important.”

Gailey’s on the hot seat, even though general manager Buddy Nix
insisted last month that the coach’s job is safe.

What’s missing, though, is an assurance from Ralph Wilson, the
Bills owner. Though he’s in regular contact with team officials,
including Nix and Gailey, Wilson has not spoken publicly since he
was briefly hospitalized in late August.

Gailey is focused on preparing for the final two games. And he
has no plans to tinker with his lineup, including a change at
quarterback. Fitzpatrick will remain the starter even though the
team gave up a draft pick to acquire Tarvaris Jackson in a trade
with Seattle in August.

Jackson, who is 17-17 as a starter, has been inactive for all 14
games this season.

”The focus is to win,” Gailey said. ”We’re going to put the
players on the field that help us win games. That’s the
responsibility of an organization, and for me in particular.”

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