He finished the 2011 season sixth in the NFL in completions, ninth in completion percentage, 10th in touchdown passes, 11th in passing yards and he was the least sacked quarterback in the NFL. But his league-leading 23 interceptions still leave Bills fans with some trepidation as to just how much faith they can put in Ryan Fitzpatrick. For those inside the walls of One Bills Drive it isn't even a question.
"We absolutely trust him because we've got nothing but confidence in what he can do and what he's going to do for us this year," said David Nelson. "He's our leader and as he goes, we go. If you ask any of the receivers, offensive linemen, coaching staff, we've got complete confidence in him and we know he's going to get the job done and lead us to amazing things this year."
Entering season three under head coach Chan Gailey there's been an evolution of Buffalo's offense with Fitzpatrick at the controls. Capable of diagnosing mismatches pre-snap and delivering the ball within two and a half seconds, Fitzpatrick proved to be one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league over the first half of the 2011 season. Now he wants to stretch that over 16 games and hopefully beyond.
"Every year you go into the year, you have to prove who you are and what kind of player you are," he said. And that's not just for me, that's for the elite guys, too. I'm sure Aaron Rodgers feels like he has a lot to prove going into the year because every season is new.
"For me, I've got more to prove than other guys, probably, because I did some things last year that were good, but at the same time, I didn't put together a full, complete season. I've got to be able to be consistent all year. And I think that consistency needs to be shown this year, throughout the whole year."
Fitzpatrick believes the combination of the results-oriented Gailey along with new quarterbacks coach David Lee, who stresses fundamentals, will put him in a great position to elevate his game to new heights.
"It's nice to have both aspects," said Fitzpatrick. "To have David Lee over my shoulder and on me all the time about fundamentals has been a big help I think. I knew at the end of last season that I wasn't where I needed to be, but I didn't think there were just a few simple things that I was doing wrong that we would be able to fix. That's been really eye-opening for me and something that should really help me improve this year."
Heading into a big Week 1 division matchup against the Jets, Fitzpatrick feels good about his chemistry with his receivers.
"We feel good, and I think the extra practice time will help a little bit this week, just with the different things that we're doing," he said. "But part of what the Jets do, is they're going to throw off the timing, because there's a lot of bump, and a lot of hitting the receivers, and that's part of what they do."
The Bills front office worked on getting more help around Fitzpatrick in the form of a starting left tackle in second-round pick in Cordy Glenn and a deep threat in third-round pick T.J. Graham. The free agent additions on defense along with top pick Stephon Gilmore should keep games closer on the scoreboard while also giving Fitzpatrick more possessions per game to put up points.
"He just needs to play. He's good enough to take us where we want to go," said head coach Chan Gailey. "That's never been a question in my mind. We just need to make sure we protect him and let him go play. If he goes and plays the way he's capable of playing and we get better as a football team he'll be just fine."
The Jets and Bills apparently differ on whether New York will get consistent pressure on Fitzpatrick or he'll get the ball out and avoid sacks.
"We're not going to get any sacks this week because nobody does against this guy at quarterback, against Harvard over there," said Jets coach Rex Ryan of Fitzpatrick. "The fact that the quarterback doesn't get sacked, he gets the ball out of his hands better than any team in the league last year."
"They do a good job of finding weaknesses in your protection and sending more guys than you can block," said Fitzpatrick. "So it's just a matter of staying composed when you're out there. I'm going to take hits in this game. I'm always going to take hits, especially versus these guys. I've just got to be able to get it out, and get it in my guys' hands. But, that's it as a quarterback. You've got to be able to go out there and do it, and I'm looking forward to that challenge."