While being outgained in total yards and time of possession, the Bills offensive performance was far from flashy in their 20-9 victory over the Carolina Panthers Sunday. The defense and special team units were key cogs for a second straight week, but the efficient play of Ryan Fitzpatrick was just as important giving the Bills their first back-to-back road victories in five seasons.
Making his first start as a member of the Bills in place of Trent Edwards, who didn't make the trip with a concussion, Fitzpatrick went 11-of-22 for 123 yards and one touchdown to Lee Evans—a short two-yard slant in the fourth quarter.
Even though most of his completions didn't come until the second half, Fitzpatrick managed the game with poise and showed confidence when the offense struggled to gain yards in the first half . Coach Dick Jauron said he was pleased with the quarterback's effort considering the Panthers' efforts to use pressure and disguise different coverages.
"I thought Ryan did a good job with what he could do. They were very talented I felt, fast up front and challenged us. We didn't have a lot he could do," Jauron said. "He made the plays when we had to make them. It was just a terrific win for our guys"
After leading the Bills to an overtime victory last week against the Jets, replacing Edwards in the second quarter, the hope was for Fizpatrick to rely on the ground game in light of the Panther's 29th ranked run defense and injury-plagued defensive front. This plan found limited success as Marshawn Lynch was the team's leading rusher with 40 yards.
Despite struggling in the first half, Fitzpatrick finally attacked Carolina's 2nd ranked pass defense on the drive leading to Evans' touchdown. Working with a short field, he completed 4-of-5 passes for 24 yards to give the Bills a 14-2 lead with 13:56 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Fitzpatrick said the turn in production was a direct result of halftime adjustments. After Lynch scored on a seven-yard run in the first quarter giving the Bills an early lead, Fitzpatrick unsuccessfully led five drives that ended in punts and one for a safety. In that span, he completed just two passes and couldn't find a rhythm.
Everything came together on the Evans touchdown.
"It was basically one of those just looking at who they had on him out there, I'm going to throw at you as hard as I can Lee and you better catch it—it was one of those deals," Fitzpatrick said. "It was closing fast, that window, and I just gave it all I had and Lee made a great catch on it."
In addition to finding chemistry with Evans for a second consecutive week, Fitzpatrick was also effective in the red zone—a problem for the Bills offense all season. Even with troubles moving the ball early, his teammates remained optimistic.
"I think he played well, he knows what he's seeing out there and he's pretty confident. He lets it go, we took some shots down the field and completed some, didn't complete some but I think it's important to take them," Evans said. "But we converted them and they were big for us in crucial points of the game."
Jauron said he was impressed with Fitzpatrick's knowledge of the offense and his ability to make corrections throughout the game.
"He's very cool under fire, he knows what's happening and he knows at what we're talking about all the time with the game plan," Jauron said. "Obviously a number of things we tried weren't working and we changed that quick. He just the handled the whole thing well, got us into checks and got us into the right things."
Fitzpatrick was quick to point out that his plays down the stretch were a testament to the defense creating turnovers. And with Carolina's offense having success sustaining drives all game, it was imperative to take advantage of opportunities.
"They've got weapons on offense and they are explosive, so we weren't going to go out there and sit on the lead," he said. "It was one of those deals we had to put points on the board."