The Buffalo Bills have won three games to start the season and much of the credit has to go to Harvard graduate-cum-NFL starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick has ignited Buffalo’s offence, one that’s been stagnant for years, lacking a quarterback with the gift to read defences and who makes good decisions.
Fitzpatrick has done it all.
And it’s making Bills fans, who have long suffered for a winner, delirious.
“Right now there’s so much optimism and so much hope,” the 29-year old pivot told reporters in the start of the season press conference. “We really think we have a good team.”
So far, that is definitely the case.
What Fitzpatrick has done is remarkable. He hasn’t just helped his club win, but has helped bring a winning culture back to the city of Buffalo, which hasn’t seen either of its big-league teams (the Sabres being the other) win a title since the Bills’ conquest of the old AFL’s 1965 championship.
Buffalo hasn’t even made the post-season since 1999, the same year the Detroit Lions (coincidentally also 3-0) last qualified for the playoffs.
But this just might be the year the rust-belt city breaks through.
With a first week victory against the Kansas City Chiefs followed up by two huge comeback wins versus the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots, the Bills are not only the cream of the crop in the AFC East, but are the only unbeaten team left in the entire AFC.
“I know there were very few believers,” Fitzpatrick said. “Anyone that believed in us was ‘probably on the edge.'”
There are few doubters now, though, and Fitzpatrick has been a big part of it.
The second-year Bills quarterback has 841 passing yards, along with nine touchdowns against only three interceptions, a completion percentage of 64.9, and a quarterback rating of 103.5 that is sixth in the league.
Not bad for a guy who was taken with the 250th overall pick in the 2005 draft by the St. Louis Rams, and whom even the lowly Cincinnati Bengals deemed unworthy of a roster spot.
But the Bills saw something in him, and they are now reaping the rewards.
Maybe it was his college numbers. Not only did Fitzpatrick go to school at Harvard, but he also played good football there.
The former Crimson player was the Ivy League MVP in 2004, and remains second all-time in most of the important quarterback statistics. As well, Fitzpatrick was the first Harvard pivot to run for over 1,000 yards.
Still, it’s surprising that a guy who scored a 48 out of 50 on the NFL’s Wonderlic Test, an exam given to rookies to assess their aptitude, and finished it in a record time of nine minutes, would be left on the scrap heap for so long.
And that’s exactly where Fitzpatrick was in his first two seasons with the Bills, sitting dead last in the division with a future that looked bleak.
But with Fitzpatrick at the helm, the team has really turned things around, especially with a crop of young players emerging behind their highly-educated signal caller.
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson broke out last year, and fellow wideouts David Nelson and Donald Jones, as well as tight end Scott Chandler, are making their mark.
In addition, running back Fred Jackson has been catching a boatload of passes, evoking memories of Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas.
The man responsible for all this excitement, according to Bills head coach Chan Gailey, is his quarterback.
“A lot of [winning] has to do with what Fitzpatrick did with those guys in the summer time,” Gailey said. “A lot of [the thriving passing game] was worked out then.”
Fitzpatrick has resurrected the Bills and the team is lucky to have found a quarterback who can thrive in Gailey’s pass-heavy offence.
It’s not shocking, then, that the club has already begun negotiations on a new, long-term contract that would keep the 28-year old in Buffalo for the long haul.
And why not?
He is the leader of the team, the face of the squad, and maybe the biggest reason why the Bills aren’t the doormats of the AFC anymore.
The Bills need Fitzpatrick, and he needs them. It’s a perfect fit.