ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills haven’t seen the last of FitzMagic.
Ryan Fitzpatrick picked up many of his colorful nicknames for his fearless flair for dramatics during a four-year stint in Buffalo.
Seven years and five teams later, the Harvard-educated swashbuckler will be back in town facing his former team Sunday, this time with the winless Miami Dolphins. He reclaimed the starting job this week in rookie coach Brian Flores’ bid to spark an offense that’s scored just 42 points.
“Decided that we feel like that was the best thing for this team and give us an opportunity — the best opportunity — for this team to go up into a tough environment and try to pull out a win,” Flores said, in explaining his sudden change of heart in having Fitzpatrick take over for turnover-prone Josh Rosen.
Fitzpatrick, 3-2 against the Bills since being released by Buffalo, is more accustomed to playing in what should be a rowdy environment, where the folding table-breaking Bills Mafia has jumped on board a 4-1 team that’s off to its best start since 2011. He’s proven to be more productive in running a talent-depleted offense after engineering two fourth-quarter touchdown drives before coming a failed two-point conversion short in a 17-16 loss to Washington last week.
Perhaps most of all, Fitzpatrick’s easygoing approach might be what the frustrated Dolphins need to stay loose amid questions of tanking, and facing a defense that has yet to allow more than 17 points or 250 yards passing — a big reason Buffalo is 4-1.
Fitzpatrick was already busy cracking jokes upon being named the starter Wednesday. He noted it’ll be easy to pick out friends and former neighbors in the stands because they’ll be the only ones wearing his old No. 14 Bills jersey.
More seriously, the 36-year-old understands the importance of leading the Dolphins on the field and mentoring Rosen, a former first-round pick now on his second team in two years.
“He knows I’m there and he knows I’ve been through a lot of different things,” Fitzpatrick said. “Every Sunday I have the fate of this whole team on my shoulders and that’s what you do as a quarterback. But if you allow it to overpower you and you allow it to cripple you, it will. So just trying to play free.”
Tight end Lee Smith certainly remembers Fitzpatrick’s freewheeling style when the two were teammates in Buffalo.
“Josh reminds me a lot of him,” Smith said, referring to Bills second-year starter Josh Allen. “Both of them are wild. They’re diving headfirst into dudes because they want to get every inch they can for their team.”
Fitzpatrick’s ability to throw caution to the wind has both extended his career and limited his chances of being a long-term starter. With a 50-77-1 record, he ranks 53rd on the career list with 192 touchdowns, and 59th with 152 interceptions.
One way or the other, he’ll have the Bills secondary on its toes.
“With Fitzpatrick, he’s a gunslinger,” Bills safety Micah Hyde said. “He’s going to give us opportunities and he’s going to give them opportunities.”
Containing Bills running back Frank Gore, the NFL’s active leading rusher, is nothing new for Flores. He was a linebacker at Boston College when his team lost to Gore and the Miami Hurricanes in 2001.
Flores said he didn’t actually get a chance to tackle Gore.
“I wasn’t very good,” Flores said. “I wasn’t in there very much.”
Gore, who spent last season with Miami, is 79 all-purpose yards from becoming the ninth player to reach 19,000. He’s also two touchdowns shy of becoming the 25th player to reach 100.
LOSING THE SPREAD
Bills defensive tackle Jordan Phillips might be on to something when he said, “What’s that mean?” when informed the Bills opened as 15½-point favorites.
The Bills have lost the last two times they’ve been favored by 15½ or more points. Buffalo lost 24-17 to the New York Jets on Dec. 6, 1992, and 16-13 at Indianapolis the previous week.
By losing a matchup of winless teams against Washington, the Dolphins are favorites in the race for the No. 1 draft pick.
That fits nicely with the organization’s rebuilding effort and pursuit of a franchise quarterback. “Tankfortua” is a popular Twitter hashtag, as Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is well aware.
“It’s flattering,” Tagovailoa said this week. “But we have a season to worry about now. Everyone is saying ‘Tank for Tua’ now. But if we end up losing all our games the rest of the season, they won’t be there saying it then.”
Chan Gailey’s first win as Bills coach in 2010 came courtesy of Fitzpatrick. Same went for interim coach Perry Fewell, who turned to Fitzpatrick after Dick Jauron was fired nine games into the 2009 season.
Fewell had an anxious moment with Buffalo nursing a 17-14 lead over Miami. Taking over with 2:31 remaining, Fitzpatrick ignored his coach’s suggestion to play conservatively and instead launched a 51-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens in an eventual 31-14 win.
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