There have been some areas of Ryan Fitzpatrick's game that were questioned by outside observers during Buffalo's recent seven-game losing streak. One part of the quarterback's skill set that has never been debated however is his toughness. Stepping out on the field to make his 16th consecutive start Sunday in Foxborough will be a testament to his physical resolve.
When Fitzpatrick lines up for the first play from scrimmage on offense against the Patriots, he'll become the first Bills quarterback to start all 16 games in a regular season in five years.
J.P. Losman was the last Bills signal caller to do so when he made 16 starts in 2006.
Bills fans had a good idea about Fitzpatrick's physical toughness when they watched him up end a defender last season against Detroit on a lead block when teammate Fred Jackson reversed his field.
In 2011 it's only be reinforced. Whether it was the monster shot to his chest that he took from London Fletcher in the shutout win over the Redskins, or barreling through Denver cornerback Chris Harris on a scramble for a first down forcing the defensive back out of the game Fitzpatrick has not shied away from contact.
For head coach Chan Gailey it's a difficult balance between protecting his quarterback from himself while also allowing him to be the player that often lunges head first for first downs instead of sliding.
"You don't ever want to take away from a guy's aggressiveness, but at the same time you want him to be smart," said Gailey. "When you're trying to win a game and you haven't won in a while you've got to go let guys do what they do. He wanted to make those first downs in those situations and he knew what was at stake and he made the plays. I'm proud of him, and I'm glad he didn't get hurt."
Fitzpatrick has put himself in harm's way 51 times this season gaining 179 yards on his scrambles with a long of 18 yards.
Part of what has also kept Fitzpatrick healthy enough to suit up every week has been an offensive line that's done well to protect him. The front five, though they've gone through a lot of shuffling due to injury, has allowed a total of 21 sacks this season, 20 on Fitzpatrick. That's tied for the fewest in football this season.
The only other quarterbacks in Bills history to go a full 16 games in a season were Drew Bledsoe, who started all 16 games in each of the three seasons he was with Buffalo (2002-2004). Jim Kelly started all 16 games in back-to-back seasons from 1992 to 1993. He also started all 16 games in 1986 and 1988.
Joe Ferguson, however, is still the standard bearer having started all 16 games in four straight seasons (1978-1981). He then started all nine games in the strike shortened 1982 season followed by another 16 starts in 1983.