In spite of losing their top two running backs to injury, Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has commandeered the team to two straight victories.
Fitzpatrick has thrown eight touchdown passes in three games, tied for the best in the league with Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger.
It is esteemed company that Fitzpatrick is in, an achievement that has been barely recognized by the national media.
The eight-year veteran has assumed a larger leadership role, and never lost confidence even as C.J. Spiller left Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns with a shoulder injury, in addition to losing Fred Jackson to a knee problem during the opening week.
By developing a strong rapport with his receivers and an intricate knowledge of the offence, Fitzpatrick has steadied the team to a 2-1 record after suffering a blowout loss to the New York Jets in Week 1.
“We won on the road…we got that monkey off our back,” Fitzpatrick said in the post-game press conference after leading a 24-14 victory over the Browns. “I think that’s something negative talked about outside the locker room more than it was inside, but this is a new year and a new team.”
The Harvard graduate completed 22 of 35 pass attempts for 208 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Spiller left the game and did not return with a left shoulder injury, but head coach Chan Gailey believes it may not be as serious as initially thought.
“I don’t believe it’s long term,” Gailey Said. “I think he’s going to be out for sure this week [against the New England Patriots] and then we’ll see where he goes from there.
Buffalo had not won on the road since a 41-9 trouncing of Kansas City in the opening game of the 2011 season.
Fitzpatrick’s relationship with star wide receiver Stevie Johnson has grown during their time in Buffalo, and he was quick to credit the impact of the back-to-back 1,000-yard man.
“Stevie’s my guy,” said Fitzpatrick. “They double-teamed him on that play.
“That’s just trust that he is going to win, because there’s times when they double and triple team the guy where he still wins. I knew that we had a good feeling that that’s the defence they were going to be in and we knew Stevie would be able to get it.”
Johnson had seven catches for 61 yards and a touchdown against the Browns.
With the injuries to Spiller and Jackson the Bills’ offence will become decidedly more pass-oriented.
Jackson has stated that he will return to practice this week, but his status remains uncertain for this Sunday’s game.
Fitzpatrick completed passes to seven different receivers against Cleveland, including rookie T.J. Graham, who caught his first career touchdown.
As Buffalo takes on AFC East rival New England Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium (1 p.m. ET), Fitzpatrick looks forward to his next big challenge.
“It’s our second win of the year, it’s another step in the right direction, we’ve got to continue to stack up these wins and keep on playing.”