In a season where expectations in terms of wins and losses fell far short of the mark, the Bills did show that there was some promise brewing on the offensive side of the ball. Buffalo's attack moved away the dysfunction of 2009, replacing it with some defined stretches of consistency in 2010 under head coach Chan Gailey.
A lot of the offensive success the Bills did enjoy could be tied chiefly to the player who would quarterback the offense for 13 of the last 14 games of the season. Ryan Fitzpatrick set single season career highs in completions (255), passing yards (3,000), touchdowns (23) and passer rating (81.8). While his impact on Buffalo's offense didn't translate into wins, his play was convincing in naming him the team's offensive MVP.
"I would definitely give it to him," said Fred Jackson. "He was a guy that got us in the right places. Being able to see where blitzes are coming from, knowing where his hot routes are and things like that. Any time you've got a guy like that leading it's definitely going to help you as an offensive unit. He was our catalyst and when he came in you could start to see our offense perform a lot better."
Buffalo's first two outings of the season with Trent Edwards at quarterback were in a word substandard. Averaging 89 yards passing, just 8.5 points per game, and converting just 27 percent of their third downs (7-26), Gailey knew he had to pull the plug inserting Fitzpatrick into the lineup.
Over the next four games the Bills offense averaged 232 yards passing, 26 points per game and was converting almost 40 percent of their third downs (39.5%).
"He allowed other guys to flourish and that's what he does," said Gailey. "He puts the ball where it needs to be for people to make plays and that's the one thing you like about the guy. He gives your team an opportunity to win."
Fitzpatrick raised the level of play of just about every receiver on the roster helping both Stevie Johnson and Roscoe Parrish develop into reliable playmakers and post career-best seasons.
"Fitz is that kind of guy you like to play with," said Parrish. "He's going to make sure you know your job and gets you involved. Throughout the week of practice he'd just let you know, 'Hey I'm paying a lot of attention to that route so make sure we get this done.' And if it's not good during practice he'd want to do it after practice. He took the leadership role real well when Trent went down and we knew what kind of guy Fitz was from practice and what he did on Sundays."
"None of this offense would've been rolling if it wasn't for 14," said Johnson. "There's not much to be said after that. Once he stepped in we saw how things started rolling."
While Fitzpatrick's exploits in the passing game were readily apparent, his expertise in diagnosing blitzes and coverages pre-snap were critical in keeping drives alive and getting the offense in the best possible plays time and again.
"I can't take a whole lot of credit," said center Geoff Hangartner. "He's the one who tells us who to go to and I just try to coordinate it with the line to make sure we're going to the people he wants us to go block. He's the one running the ship."
Between recognizing blitzes, calling audibles at the line, knowing his 'hot' routes and taking off to elude pressure, Fitzpatrick helped Buffalo reduce their sacks allowed by a dozen from last season (46 – 32nd in NFL) to this season (34 – 15th in NFL).
"Fitz is a difference maker," said Eric Wood. "He does what he has to do to put us in a position to win. A lot of times he's making a lot of plays for us and he makes us look really good."
Fitzpatrick's decision making was most valuable in the red zone, where for a one month stretch in the middle of the season Buffalo ranked at or near the top in touchdown percentage inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Injuries and some highly ranked defensive opponents down the stretch compromised their success rate come season's end with the Bills finishing 11th in that category.
"It would take a long time to discuss what he's brought to our football team," said Gailey. "Everybody sees his toughness. Everybody knows how smart he is. He does a great job of getting us into the right plays and making adjustments, during the week and in the game to allow us to be successful. Not being afraid to do anything on the football field. That's him in a nutshell."
Which is why when asked to assess his season personally, Fitzpatrick instead chose to focus on what the team accomplished, or failed to accomplish, in season one under their new head coach.
"I think the first thing you look at is the record, which we're not satisfied with that," he said. "We're not satisfied with the way the season went there. I think I'm satisfied with the sense that I think I improved this year. I made an improvement from this year over last year. Personally I just need to continue to do things like that and continue to get myself better and in turn that gets the team better."
Fitzpatrick's improvements appear to have convinced his head coach that he's their best option going forward at quarterback. When asked how committed he is to Fitzpatrick being his starter in 2011, Gailey was frank.
"Very committed," he said. "He's done a lot of good things. Every week he manages the game amazingly well and knows how to take advantage of opponents. He can improve, and we've got to stop the turnovers. If we can do that I think we give ourselves a chance to be a successful offense."
"With everybody now being in the system for a year and gaining an understanding of what we're trying to get done, I think this offense with a year worth of work and hopefully a full offseason… it's going to be exciting to see what will happen next season."