Bills QB Fitzpatrick earns respect of teammates

Ryan Fitzpatrick is the first to acknowledge he still faces

questions about his consistency and mechanics. The rest of the

qualities it takes to being a successful quarterback – poise,

toughness, and confidence – the Buffalo Bills starter appears to

have down pat.

From the ability to take a big hit and play hurt, as Fitzpatrick

did last season, or accepting pressure and blame, he’s not wavered.

Whether it’s taking his offensive linemen out to dinner or merely

remembering something simple as birthdays or the first name of a

player’s wife, his actions have resonated through the locker

room.

”We wouldn’t trade him for anybody,” center Eric Wood said

Tuesday. ”He’s our guy.”

Or as coach Chan Gailey says: ”He can win championships.”

That’s high praise for a journeyman seventh-round draft pick out

of Harvard, who is on his third team in eight seasons and lost far

more games than he’s won, including a 15-24 record with the Bills

(No. 19 in the AP Pro32).

There’s more to the numbers, his teammates say.

”You can’t put it all on him,” receiver Stevie Johnson said.

”We all have to do our parts.”

If there’s any more pressure on Fitzpatrick entering a critical

stage of his career in an attempt to play up to the six-year, $59

million contract extension he signed in October, the quarterback’s

not showing it.

”I wouldn’t even think he’d be facing pressure right now the

way he’s out there. He’s so cool,” Johnson added. ”He seems so

comfortable.”

Like the beard he’s begun to grow in each of the past three

offseasons, Fitzpatrick remains unchanged even as the stakes have

been raised. He’s maintains a dry, self-deprecating wit, and is

open to ribbing teammates, sharing nicknames of assistant coaches

and about how bad his golf game is these days.

”I love it,” Fitzpatrick said, referring to how much pressure

might be on him. ”If I didn’t love it, I don’t think I’d play the

position. That’s why I do it. I want all of the pressure to fall on

me so that the other guys can just go out there and play.”

And yet, Fitzpatrick will acknowledge he has to play better and

with more consistency.

”That’s really going to be the test for me, and not just Week 1

through Week 5,” Fitzpatrick said. ”It’s going to be the whole

season.”

That was the problem last year. After helping the team get off

to a surprising 5-2 start, Fitzpatrick and the Bills then unraveled

by going 1-8 the rest of the way.

The wins and losses mirrored Fitzpatrick’s production. Through

seven games, he had 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Over his

final nine games, he had 10 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

It didn’t help that the Bills were so banged up on defense that

it placed far too much pressure on the offense to produce in order

to keep up. Buffalo’s offense was also riddled with injuries, and

not designed to have Fitzpatrick come out throwing as much as he

did.

The Bills went 4-0 when Fitzpatrick made 29 or fewer pass

attempts. And they went 2-10 when he attempted 30 or more.

Fitzpatrick won’t acknowledge it, but teammates will mention how

he continued playing through a severe chest injury sustained during

a 23-0 win over Washington in late October.

”He showed a lot of guts to us last year,” Wood said. ”He

proved a lot to us in the way he came in, week in and week

out.”

Fitzpatrick has spent much of the offseason working on improving

his mechanics with new quarterbacks coach David Lee. The work has

shown signs of paying off a week into training camp. Fitzpatrick

has been sharp in hitting receivers with throws to their back

shoulders, something he’s previously struggled with. And he’s been

very consistent in hitting players on the run over the middle.

”I’ve got a lot of belief in myself, and I think that if I

didn’t believe in myself, I probably would have quit playing

football after I was done with Harvard,” Fitzpatrick said. ”I’m

ready to go out there and play. I’ve proved it. I’ve showed it.

I’ve played well in stretches. But I think consistency is the big

thing, and I know I can do it.”

There’s more to Fitzpatrick than production and numbers, tight

end Scott Chandler said. Chandler will never forget how impressed

he was when he first introduced his wife Alissa to Fitzpatrick, and

the quarterback already knew her first name.

”It’s stuff like that that makes people feel good and makes

them feel wanted,” Chandler said. ”He’s genuinely interested in

you and your well-being. That’s a quality that not very many people

have. And it’s a great one to have in a quarterback.”

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