Time and again the offensive players on Buffalo's roster have talked about how Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a difference maker on the field. On pace to have the second-highest single-season passing touchdown total in team history, the production has been obvious. What has been less noticeable from the outside is the leadership Fitzpatrick has brought to a position that hasn't had it in abundance for the Bills in recent years.
"It would take a long time to discuss what he's brought to our football team," said head coach Chan Gailey. "Trying to put it in a nutshell it would be that 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. He'll throw it to anybody that's open. He'll give anybody a chance. He's not locked in to one thing. That gets everybody excited about playing."
Stevie Johnson has talked more than once how everyone is "live" when Fitzpatrick is the quarterback. Everyone has a chance to make a play when he's dropping back to pass.
"It goes further than just throw and catch," Johnson said. "He has the confidence in us and I don't want to let him down and I'm pretty sure nobody else wants to let him down either because he's giving us opportunities. That's all you can ask for as a receiver, a quarterback that's giving everybody opportunities and not just dumping it to one player."
Fans have seen Fitzpatrick's toughness. He's taken big shots in the pocket in order to make a play in the passing game. He's thrown blocks for teammates downfield, and he's lowered his head for the extra yard on scrambles.
What fans don't see is the one-on-one time he spends with young teammates in the film room, or the direction expression of confidence in each and every player on his side of the ball. In the huddle or in the meeting rooms Fitzpatrick isn't some field general barking out orders. He's a collected competitor that's confident he has the answers. That approach has in turn given confidence to the players around him.
"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."
The reason his teammates have that blind faith is because no matter who is on the field with him, he raises their level of play. Buffalo's three undrafted rookie receivers this past week served as the latest example. Without Roscoe Parrish for the better part of six weeks and also minus Lee Evans, Nelson, Jones and Roosevelt combined for six catches for 125 yards and a touchdown in a 17-14 victory.
"Fitzpatrick definitely makes things easy on you," said Roosevelt, who made his first NFL catch Sunday. "He's a real cool guy. A good guy to talk to and good to get along with. He's definitely helped me out a lot in getting ready. I'm definitely glad he has confidence in me to get the job done."
"Fitz has had a knack for working guys in and not letting it be a detriment and letting those guys go have an opportunity to make plays," Gailey said.
"I think as a quarterback that's one of your roles, just making everybody around you feel more comfortable and confident," said Fitzpatrick. "I think I've done that with those guys, but it's because I am confident with them. They know it and I tell them that. I think that's important."
Fitzpatrick's effective leadership has even drawn the praise of one of the Bills' best leaders, Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.
"Ryan Fitzpatrick understands that this is his team now and he's taken that leadership responsibility upon himself to make sure things work right," Kelly said. "There are not many quarterbacks in the league today that will set aside extra time to sit in film rooms with a receiver one-on-one and go over coverages and get a teammate's thoughts about how they're going to run routes or set up defenders.
"My hat is off to Fitzpatrick for doing whatever it takes to get the most out of this offense despite the fact that there have been a lot of moving parts lately."
Perhaps most important is even though Fitzpatrick comes with a Harvard pedigree, he doesn't wear it like a badge of superiority.
"He's a regular guy," said Gailey.
His performance on the field is undeniable, but it Fitzpatrick's leadership, be it on the fly in the game or off the field preparing for one, that's had just as much of a positive effect on a team that's been looking for a guy worth following for some time.
"He's always in command and respected," said Fred Jackson. "Guys just know how smart and prepared he is. He's constantly telling guys what to expect. That's why we are all willing to do whatever he asks of us."