TEMPE, Ariz. If Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick seems unusually calm in the wake of his teams disastrous performances the past two weeks, well, thats because he is.
Hes always been that way, said Mike Reardon, Fitzpatricks coach at Gilbert Highland High School. Initially, I didnt know how to take him. I thought he was a teenager just shutting me off, but he wasnt at all. He absorbed everything, and he adapted to everything.
As an example, Reardon cites a game during Fitzpatricks junior year against state powerhouse Chandler Hamilton. The Hawks were down 17-0 early, and Reardon was venting his frustration with his offenses inability to run the game plan.
Im screaming: Ryan youve got to take control of that huddle! Youve got to get these guys going! We look like were intimidated! Reardon said.
He bends down and pull up his socks, so I said, Ryan, are you even listening to me?' He says, Yeah, and that was it. He didnt say another word. He just went back on the field, we come back and beat them, I think 39-17, and it was mostly because of him.
High school hurdles are a bit lower than NFL hurdles, of course, and Fitzpatrick has a mountain to climb after the Bills were blown out in consecutive weeks 52-28 by New England; 45-3 by San Francisco to fall to 2-3.
Were it not for the Bills 31st-ranked defense (449.4 yards per game, 35.2 points per game), Fitzpatrick might be the No. 1 target in Buffalo fans crosshairs. Hes thrown eight interceptions, which is tied for the third most in the league behind Brandon Weedens and Matt Cassels nine picks. Hes completing just 58.3 percent of his passes, which ranks 25th.
Granted, Fitzpatrick also has the third-most TD passes (12) -- behind Drew Brees and Matt Ryan -- but when you sign a six-year, 59 million extension, as Fitzpatrick did last fall, expectations are higher.
This is a production business, and I think everybody knows that, Fitzpatrick said. (But) I dont think I need to sit and put that on my shoulders every week and every play. I dont think about Ive got to make this play or else Weve got to win this game or else I think if you do that and you start pressing, then youre not going to be effective.
In that sense, Fitzpatrick admitted its nice to return home to his comfort zone where he can see extended family, including his parents. The Bills are practicing at Arizona State University all week in preparation for this weeks game against the Cardinals, rather than flying back across country from last weeks game in San Francisco.
Fitzpatricks parents attended ASU and met there. He attended many games when Jake Plummer, Keith Poole and Pat Tillman were roaming the fields, so the memories have come flooding back. So have the comforts of home, like his moms fattening but irresistible macaroni and cheese.
But if you were expecting Fitzpatrick to limp home and cry in his moms arms this week, youd fail to understand the man.
Im a guy that internalizes a lot of stuff. Im not a guy thats going to outwardly talk about feelings and stuff like that, he said. Im not going to be seeking counsel and help. Im a pretty stable guy, but its nice to be able to get a home-cooked meal from Mom.
Fitzpatricks story is well known in Valley circles. While some lamented the fact that he landed just one Division I scholarship offer - from Eastern Washington - Fitzpatrick knew all along he wanted to get the best education possible. It doesnt get much better than Harvard.
I think it helped him because they ran an offense that suited his abilities, Reardon said. When he came out, everybody already knew he was smart, but they could also see the kid could play.
The Rams saw enough to draft him in the seventh round in 2005. After two seasons as a backup in St. Louis, and two more in Cincinnati, he's spent the past four seasons in Buffalo, starting 42 games.
Bills coach Chan Gailey sees no reason to contemplate a change.
He and I talk about quarterback play and what we expect and what we want and dont want and what we like and dont like, Gailey said. He knows exactly what he has to do. Ive seen him do it too many times. He hasnt hit a couple passes that we all wish he had, but I think he can do it, and I think he will do it.
Why is Gailey so confident?
Because he plays the game and studies the game the way youre supposed to play the game and the way youre supposed to study the game, he said.
Without fanfare. Without bravado. Without drama.
Ive got to go out there and just play, Fitzpatrick said. I guess thats the biggest thing for me.
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