(Sports Network) - Ryan Fitzpatrick played his college ball at the New England institution and national treasure that is Harvard University, parlaying his success as an Ivy League MVP into the life of an itinerant backup quarterback in the NFL.
Fitzpatrick will come full circle, in a sense, on Sunday afternoon, when he returns to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to lead the struggling Buffalo Bills into battle against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
In the wake of two subpar outings for quarterback Trent Edwards and the Bills offense, first-year head coach Chan Gailey announced on Monday that Edwards would be replaced with Fitzpatrick for Sunday's contest.
Fitzpatrick lost a three-way preseason competition with Edwards and Brian Brohm for the starting job, but just 24 days after the preseason ended, Gailey is already altering the depth chart. The Bills have been outscored 49-17 in the first two games of the Gailey era, and in last Sunday's 34-7 loss at the Green Bay Packers managed fewer than 200 offensive yards for a second straight week.
Though the coach making this decision might be different, there is really nothing new about this scenario. Fitzpatrick replaced Edwards more than once in 2009 as well, going 4-4 as a starter to Edwards' 2-5 but posting just a 69.7 passer rating a year ago.
He'll face a Patriots team just one week removed from an unsettling 28-14 loss to the New York Jets, a game in which the Patriots did little right on either side of the ball after taking a 14-7 second-quarter lead on a dazzling Randy Moss touchdown catch.
The Pats turned the ball over three times, didn't have much of a defensive answer for Mark Sanchez (21-of-30, 220 yards, 3 TD, 0 turnovers), tight end Dustin Keller (7 receptions, 115 yards, 1 TD) or running backs LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene (128 combined yards on 26 carries), and seemed to wilt when the pro-Jets crowd got noisy over the final 30 minutes.
The defeat dropped New England to 2-7 in its last nine road games.
Tom Brady completed 20-of-36 passes for 248 yards and a couple of touchdowns, but also committed three turnovers (two INT, one fumble) to help deflate the Pats' chances.
To make matters worse, the Patriots lost trusty 12-year veteran running back Kevin Faulk for the season with a torn ACL.
Faulk's 22 rushing yards against the Jets topped the team's chart, and New England will need some stronger work from the likes of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (10 carries, 19 yards), Fred Taylor (5 carries, 11 yards) and Sammy Morris (1 reception, 19 yards) moving forward.
The Patriots hold a 58-40-1 edge over the Bills in a series that dates back to 1960, and are 18-1 against Buffalo in the last 19 meetings, including 13 straight wins since the Bills' 31-0 home victory over New England to open the 2003 campaign. In Week 1 of 2009, the Patriots rallied from a late deficit to edge the Bills, 25-24, at Gillette Stadium, then took a 17-10 decision at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Week 15. The Bills are 0-9 in New England since last winning there in 2000.
The clubs have also met once in the postseason, a 26-8 New England road victory in a 1963 AFL Division Playoff.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds a 18-3 record against the Bills in his career, including an 18-2 mark while with New England. Buffalo's Gailey was 0-1 against the Patriots during his tenure with the Cowboys (1998-99), and will be meeting Belichick for the first time head-to-head.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Fitzpatrick actually has some experience against the Patriots, having presided over the Bills' seven-point home loss to New England last December. He completed 17-of-25 passes for 178 yards with a touchdown and an interception in that contest. He'll need to get the likes of Lee Evans (4 receptions) and Roscoe Parrish (4 receptions) involved this week. Evans did not have a catch against the Packers last week, with Parrish adding value with two grabs for 34 yards. Still, Buffalo probably won't progress offensively unless and until Gailey determines what in the world the team's direction is at the running back position. In Green Bay, the Bills gave the majority of the carries to Marshawn Lynch (77 rushing yards on the year), in what was widely believed to be an attempt to showcase the disgraced former first-rounder for trade suitors. Fred Jackson (58 rushing yards, 1 TD, 2 receptions) backed Lynch and scored the team's only touchdown of the day. First-round rookie C.J. Spiller (31 rushing yards, 8 receptions), he of the five-year, $25 million contract, was worthy of just one carry for three yards on the day. The Bills are last in NFL total offense (176 yards per game), passing offense (89 yards per game) and scoring offense (8.5 points per game).
After a promising effort against the Bengals in Week 1, a patchwork Patriots defense did nothing against the Jets to dispel the notion that it has a long way to go in 2010. The team allowed Sanchez and the New York offense to do whatever it wanted for much of the final two-and-a-half quarters, with the play of the secondary standing out in the "needs work" department. Cornerbacks Darius Butler (13 tackles) and Devin McCourty (7 tackles) are among those who must improve this week. The New England pass rush was actually decent, with end Gerard Warren (2 tackles) breaking through for his first two sacks as a Patriot and Tully Banta-Cain (12 tackles, 1.5 sacks) notching his first full sack of the year off the edge. A run defense that allowed 136 yards last week will have to be better at the point of attack. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork (7 tackles) remains the club's biggest difference-maker up front, and rookie inside linebacker Brandon Spikes (12 tackles) comes off a week in which he posted a game-high nine tackles. New England has allowed a league-high-tying five touchdown passes through two weeks (Panthers), and has also allowed opponents to complete a league-high 4-of-4 fourth-down attempts.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Brady (506 passing yards, 5 TD, 2 INT) has thrown multiple touchdown passes in each of his first two games of 2010, but struggled to finish off drives a week ago and must cut down on turnovers if his attack is going to approach its 2008 level. Moss (7 receptions, 1 TD) and Wes Welker (14 receptions, 3 TD) will again serve as Brady's primary targets, though the emergence of rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez (7 receptions) and Rob Gronkowski (2 receptions) also has to be noted. The fourth-round draft choice Hernandez had a huge game with six catches for 101 yards against the Jets, while Gronkowski caught a TD pass in the opening-day win over the Bengals. Moss and Welker accounted for the New England touchdowns a week ago. New England faced major questions on the offensive line to open the season, and the less-than-stellar work of the run game isn't going to reduce the calls for the team to patch up its differences with left guard holdout Logan Mankins. Green-Ellis (41 rushing yards), Taylor (82 rushing yards) and Morris (2 rushing yards) all figure to see touches this week for a team trying to improve on its rank of 24th in NFL rushing offense.
After the mistakes of last Sunday, the Patriots will be happy to see a Bills defense that has seen its playmaking abilities go begging during 2010 to date. The Bills enter Week 3 as one of two teams without a takeaway (Cowboys), a strange predicament for a unit possessing noted back-end playmakers like cornerback Terrence McGee (5 tackles) and safety Jairus Byrd (4 tackles). A lack of pressure has had something to do with the dearth of turnovers, as the Bills failed to notch a sack of Aaron Rodgers last Sunday. Backup pass rusher Chris Ellis (5 tackles) has the team's lone sack by an outside linebacker, and the team is still waiting for 2009 first-rounder Aaron Maybin (2 tackles) to break through in that regard. Buffalo comes off a solid week against the run, as it held three Packers running backs to 71 ground yards on 22 combined carries. Inside linebacker Andra Davis (15 tackles) had seven tackles in the loss, with Dwan Edwards (9 tackles) leading the trench group with five stops. The front seven was without linebacker Paul Posluzsny (8 tackles, 1 sack), who is battling a knee problem and is a question mark to return to the lineup this week.
To the surprise of no one, it looks like the Patriots are going to lean heavily on the passing game in 2010, making Brady, Moss and Welker front-line fantasy starters. Hernandez is an intriguing choice too after the performance he put together in Week 2, though inconsistency tends to rule the day with rookies. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski only has one made field goal this year, but you have to believe he'll get his chances this week. Steer clear of any of the New England running backs until further notice.
The Bills might have a lot of intriguing options in nightmare football, but not fantasy football. Spiller might be worth considering in leagues that put an emphasis on return yards, as he's been bringing back kickoffs for a team that looks like it will be fielding its share of them this year.
Though it's always dangerous to compare previous results in a league where things can change very quickly, it is somewhat telling that Buffalo's two 2009 losses to New England, presided over by two different coaches and two different quarterbacks, came by a total of eight points. Buffalo is nowhere close to being a good team, but they have enough talent to play tough against an AFC East rival, especially one like the Patriots who are still trying to find themselves. Given their dubious history in New England, it's impossible to pick the Bills to win this game, but don't be surprised if the result is still in doubt in the fourth quarter.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 23, Bills 16