x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Buffalo Bills plans finally paying off

Chan Gailey's spread-the-field approach is being taken on board by the unbeaten Buffalo players.

Having been handed the keys to the Buffalo offense by coach Chan Gailey, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has not disappointed.
Having been handed the keys to the Buffalo offense by coach Chan Gailey, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has not disappointed.

Their quarterback and top receiver were last-round draft picks. As humbling as that sounds, the two hold bragging rights over their team's best running back and their Nos 2-3 receivers: all three went undrafted.

The tight end? He was selected in the fourth round of the NFL draft but is on his fourth team and entered the season with one catch in his career.

Even with this unheralded cast at the skill positions, the Buffalo Bills are 3-0 and one of the final three unbeaten teams in the NFL.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, the quarterback, is smart enough to realise the Bills will not remain the league's highest-scoring franchise (37.7 points per game) nor even No 3 in yards gained (431 per game).

"Going out and scoring 35 to 40 points a game is not going to happen every week," said Fitzpatrick, who is smart enough to realise a lot of things, having graduated from Harvard and scoring one of the highest grades ever recorded in the intelligence test given by the NFL to draft-eligible players.

"That being said, we think we've got enough talent and we've got the system in place, and enough experience, to where we can go out there and score on anybody."

Last Sunday, the Bills gave New England, who had beaten them 15 consecutive regular-season games, a 21-point lead before recovering. A field goal as the game ended gave Buffalo their lone lead of the day.

Fitzpatrick, with his third team in seven seasons, ended last year with a loose hold on the starting job. The Bills looked longingly at two quarterbacks, maybe more, in the draft.

Ultimately, Chan Gailey, the second-year coach, decided Fitzpatrick had the arm and the brain to engineer his offence. It also fit the skills of the undrafted tailback, Fred Jackson, also a deft receiver who ranks second at his position for all-purpose yards.

Fitzpatrick's preferred target, Steve Johnson, overcame the double embarrassment of a dropped game-winning pass late last season and blaming God in a tweet. He has three touchdowns. Donald Jones, David Nelson and tight end Scott Chandler - not a household name among them - give "Fitz" plenty of options.

The Bills are famed for being the only team to reach four consecutive Super Bowls, 1990-1993. (Infamous, too, because they lost all four). Younger fans know the team as one that has gone 11 seasons without a play-off appearance, primarily due to a woeful offence.

Gailey's spread-the-field approach took a while last season to sink in. The Bills opened 0-8 but righted themselves with a 4-4 second half.

"Last year, everything was so new," Fitzpatrick said. "There's a lot less thinking this year and a lot more of going out there and playing."

Jackson has been thinking bad thoughts about the front office, which might be an extra jolt of motivation. Attempts to renegotiate a contract that pays US$1.75 million (Dh6.4m) this season have been futile. "I'm annoyed by it," he said, but claims to be undistracted.

Whatever works, the long-suffering Bills fans will take it.

 

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