By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
We're starting to see a pattern here, are we not? The good stuff is that the Bills are still playing hard for coach Chan Gailey, and the defense is beginning to look like a defense, holding the Chiefs to 10 points in regulation last week and giving up a respectable 22 points to the Bears.
The pattern that has to be monumentally frustrating for Gailey the head coach and Gailey the offensive coordinator is his quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick does so many things well - he threw for 299 yards and a touchdown against a good and aggressive Bears defense - yet also made, AGAIN, the CRITICAL mistake with the game on the line that was the ultimate difference in the game.
The Bills had finally forged ahead in the 4th quarter after Spencer Johnson's sack and forced fumble by Bears qb Jay Cutler near midfield. That allowed Fitzpatrick the chance to lead a nice drive that ended with fullback Corey McIntyre smashing into the end zone for a 19-14 lead with just over 9 minutes to play. The Bills were forced to go for two because Rian Lindell's earlier PAT was blocked - Lindell's first PAT miss in 321 career attempts - and that was stuffed so the Bills were now protecting a 5 point lead.
What they needed now, was a long, time-consuming drive that could hopefully lead to at least a Lindell field goal for an 8-point lead. I don't mind the fact Gailey then became aggressive, or maybe even Fitzpatrick did this on his own, but Fitzpatrick threw it downfield for Steve Johnson from his own 29, and underthrew the open Johnson, leading to a tipped ball and interception.
The Bears turned that turnover into what was eventually the game winning touchdown.
A week ago in KC Fitzpatrick had a chance to put the Bills in position to win in regulation, and on the most critical play of the game, the ball partially slipped out of his hand and that too, became an interception. The de ja vu comes in, because the situation was eerily similar in the overtime loss at Baltimore 3 weeks ago when Fitzpatrick's two 3rd quarter int's helped keep the Ravens in the game they eventually won.
Nobody should expect any quarterback to play an error-free game, and Fitzpatrick has made the Bills fun to watch again; he knows how to read the blitz and get the ball out, he has great courage under pressure, and is always the smartest guy in the building.
What is baffling, is that when it seems to matter most, whether it's fair or not, Fitzpatrick is being thought of as the guy who just doesn't have the "right stuff" to make THE play when the game is on the line.
For that reason, the debate will continue about what the Bills strategy will be for the April NFL Draft in terms of the quarterback question. In my mind, Fitzpatrick is playing at a much higher level right now than ANY qb coming out - Luck, Locker, you name him - would be playing as a rookie.
On the other hand, the Bills might not be in position - hopefully - to draft a qb of this kind of ability after next April, so it really comes down to what gm Buddy Nix and Gailey and the scouting staff all think about the prospect. They all have great arms and intangibles, but they also will not help right away most likely.
Fitzpatrick has had several chances now to make it easy for the Bills to grab an impact player who can help immediately on either the offensive line or on defense, knowing Fitzpatrick isn't the ultimate answer but can at least make the team competitive while the other holes are filled.
Until "Fitz" closes the deal, the lingering question is still there.