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.
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 They've instead been replaced by the familiar frustrations of a franchise that's spent much of the past decade spinning its wheels.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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