Fickle bunch we are.
The lot of us – Bills fans, sports fans, people.
It’s applicable everywhere, but when it comes to our football team, specifically our quarterback, we may just be the touchiest group of babies there are.
Last season, after years – excruciating years without a competent quarterback, we entered the season with a true glimmer of hope under center for the first time since Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly (or God himself, as far as this fanbase is concerned) traded in his cleats for a set of clubs in 1996. Fight it all you want, but we know you were excited about Ryan Fitzpatrick and his potential for the 2011 season last summer when it became apparent that he’d be the starter under any circumstances, even if you are too high and mighty to own up to it now. Fitzpatrick, after a career of uncertainty and inconsistencies, was heading into a season with the least amount of cynicism and skepticism for a Bills quarterback since Drew Bledsoe took the reins ten years ago. In the time between Kelly and Bledsoe, Bledsoe and Fitzpatrick, and all points in between, there have been myriad signal callers for this team – and in most years, three or four different starters were not uncommon. During this past year, Fitzpatrick showed glimpses of excellence which earned him a very fruitful contract extension early on, but injuries put a damper on the second half of his season, prompting fans to make the vocal push for someone – anyone – who could help this young offense realize its potential.
The point is, things change – and in Buffalo’s 15 year quest for a quarterback, the hot hand rules supreme. If someone else gets a shot and outplays you, it’d be a good idea to call your realtor, because you won’t be a Western New Yorker much longer. Ever since Kelly’s retirement, the fans here (and sometimes management, it seems) have an ever-growing lust for the backup. It’s not always that we think that we have a prized gem waiting in the wings, and in fact, that usually couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just that when the guy who sits atop the depth chart isn’t showing you what you want statistically – and, as far as I’m concerned, the only QB statistic that matters is right below the W on the box score – you start to pine for the what if’s and maybes that your second and third guys bring, that free agency brings – that you, personally, could bring. That’s just how it is, and until we see consistent, quality football being played by a Buffalo quarterback, that’s just how it will be.
Even provided the clear-cut explanation of multiple injuries sustained in a mid-season game, a divide has formed amongst fans on Fitzpatrick at this juncture. That’s fine and entirely understandable – he fell to pieces and needs to prove himself again – but so many have followed history and started to pine for literally any alternative their minds can conjure up. During the season, and up until just last month, there were calls for Tyler Thigpen to take over – following the draft you’d have thought that Aaron Corp and Alex Tanney were the draft’s top two picks with the way folks were describing how quickly they’d start stealing Fitzpatrick’s reps in practice (both have long since been cut). The biggest spark that set the flame for the never-contents, however, was when we signed veteran quarterback Vince Young last month. Young, a former all-everything collegiate and top pick of the Tennessee Titans in the 2006 draft, has drastically fallen off in recent years, which is why he was readily available to come hold a clipboard in Orchard Park.
Young fits the mold of what you want in a backup to a… well, he fits better than OJ’s glove did. First of all, he’s willing to be a reserve. He’s also not entirely far off in talent level from 14, which should provide the push and drive Fitzpatrick needs to stay consistent while also being able to step in when he isn’t. The problem is, since we don’t know what it’s like to have a real one (I mean, Kelly Holcomb? Really?), the “who’s next?” mindset gets stronger than ever. A guy who’s had half a season of quality play starting over a guy who’s had a lifetime of hype and shortcomings?! Surely, you jest!
Numbers aside, if you ask those unhappy with Fitzpatrick why they are, you’ll hear a lot of similar answers.
He’s got bad footwork.
He takes too many chances.
He never protects himself.
Funny, though – the last time we had a respectable number two at quarterback, the guy in front of him had all of those downfalls as regular parts of his game and we never had a controversy or even a shudder of one. Just remember, kids – winning cures all ills. If the Bills of the Kelly era were as awful as we have been over the past few years, you can bet that Frank Reich would have found himself in the driver’s seat a little sooner and much more often.
That’s the most unfortunate part of it all – the double standard. Whereas Kelly was praised for his ‘gunslinger’ mentality and style of play, Fitzpatrick is torn apart for it. The quarterback position is, now more than ever, truly a blame-or-praise occupation. In just his second year as a full-time starter, it’s do or die for Ryan Fitzpatrick as well as the staff that backs him. The first time that he throws an interception, leaves a game with an injury, or takes a loss you can rest assured that the city of Buffalo will fall in love with Vince Young or whomever may be on the bench at that point, holding a clipboard and watching from afar. It’s the nature of the beast and, unfortunately, the Amish Rifle will fall out of favor with the league’s most fickle, tired-of-waiting fans if he’s anything short of spectacular.
Let’s just hope – for his sake and ours – that he’s at least good enough to win. That’s all we’ve ever wanted after all.