Humorist Dave Barry once wrote that Harvard University “for more than three centuries has produced graduates who, no matter what their philosophical differences, are all dedicated to the lofty goal of subtly letting you know that they went to Harvard.” Former Harvard Crimson and current Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t needed to purse his alma mater’s self-gratification.
Instead, football commentators and analysts have done the work for him, pointing out at every opportunity possible that Fitzpatrick did indeed once play for Harvard. And based on his play since signing a six-year, $59 million contract, Fitzpatrick may still think he’s playing in the Ivy League.
Lots of Money, Few Results
Since Fitzpatrick signed his deal on Oct. 28, his success in the NFL has plummeted. His accuracy dipped from over 67 percent before the deal to under 60 percent after. His 2:1 touchdown-interception ratio became 1.3:1 in the opposite direction. His QB rating has dropped from an average of 95.4 through the first six games to 71.4 for the final nine.
Since the Bills basically bet the farm on Fitzpatrick, the team’s success has died with Fitzpatrick’s. Of Buffalo’s six wins, four came in the first week. Buffalo has gone 2-7 since extending Fitzpatrick, at one point losing seven consecutive games and plummeting from first all the way to third in the AFC East.
Despite the incredible beginning of their season, the Bills could actually finish last in the division: They play a Patriots team seeking home-field advantage on Sunday, whereas the Dolphins play the Jets. The Dolphins hold the tie-breaker over the Bills.
Weak Competition Weakens Bills
As disappointing as the Bills’ collapse has been for their fans, what’s strange is that it’s come against weaker teams than they played before Oct. 28. Pre-contract Bills opponents have a current average winning percentage of .555; post-contract opponents average .459. Since Fitzpatrick’s extension, the Bills have played the God-awful Redskins, the equally awful Dolphins twice and the sub-.500 Chargers.
The Bills went 1-3 against what should have been their easiest opponents all season, only beating the Redskins. Fitzpatrick really struggled against the Dolphins and Chargers, completing just 53.3 percent of his throws and throwing just two touchdowns to seven interceptions.
The Dolphins and Chargers stink, but they both feature decent pass-defenses. The Dolphins tie for ninth in the NFL with 39 sacks. Chargers linebacker Antwan Barnes ranks 11th in the NFL with 11 sacks, and safety Eric Weddle shares the league-lead with seven interceptions. As a team, the Chargers rank 10th in the NFL in allowed passing yardage, giving up 212 yards per game.
A good pass-rush will disrupt even the best quarterbacks. Patriots fans need only look at last Sunday’s game against the Dolphins for proof of that. But Fitzpatrick, it seems, is even more vulnerable to pressure than an average NFL quarterback. Get in his face and he melts.
The Patriots nearly melted him in their first meeting, picking off Fitzpatrick twice in the first quarter and building a 21-point lead. Unfortunately, Tom Brady also threw a couple of picks, then suffered a far greater meltdown at the hands of the Bills defense. Every once in awhile, Brady just loses it, and his Week 3 game against the Bills was just such a game.
Fortunately for Pats fans, Brady’s meltdowns are the exceptions, not the norm. Fitzpatrick’s are becoming more and more commonplace: he’s thrown three picks in two game since his new deal. He hadn’t thrown three picks in any 2011 game before the deal, and he’d only done it three times since entering the league in 2005.
The Bills didn’t make a mistake by extending Fitzpatrick: he’s easily been the most dynamic, exciting player they’ve had in quite a few years, and the fans have rallied around him enough to show management he can fill Ralph Wilson Stadium. But anyone hoping Fitzpatrick can restore the Bills to their late-90s glory (four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, all losses) is delusional.
Fitzpatrick isn’t at Harvard anymore. The NFL is faster, stronger and smarter than Division I college football, and the Crimson play at the back-end of that division, not the forefront. For Fitzpatrick to succeed, he needs to bring his football IQ up to the same level as his regular IQ.
Fans are sick of hearing about Harvard all the time. Think how much more tired of it his opponents are.