I was sitting next to Pete Prisco, the highly respected national football writer for CBS Sportsline, in the Rogers Centre in Toronto a few weeks ago, when the topic of Ryan Fitzpatrick's new, multi-year $59-million contract was broached.
"I don't know what the rush was in getting a deal done,'' Prisco told me. "I'm still not completely sold on the guy. I would have waited until the end of the season to make an offer."
Even after a solid game by Fitz and the Bills in an easy victory against a depleted Washington Redskins team that evening, Prisco wasn't budging.
I'm sure after Sunday's debacle in Dallas on top of last week's uninspired performance at home vs. the Jets, a lot more people are going to wish the Bills front office had shown similar skepticism.
I was among the majority in the Western New York media who was on board with the extension. But I must admit that my Bill-lief in Fitz and these Bills has begun to waver.
The fear is that defensive master minds, such as Jets head coach Rex Ryan and his brother, Rob, the Cowboys coordinator, have come up with the blue-print for stymieing Fitz and a high-powered offense that averaged 33 points the first four games and just 19 points that last five games.
After that 27-11 loss to the Jets and Sunday's 44-7 thrashing at the hands of the Cowboys in the opulence of Jerryland, it's obvious that opposing teams have stopped Fearing the Beard. Fitzpatrick threw 14 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions in his first six games. In his last two blowout losses, he has just two TD tosses and five picks, including one which Dallas cornerback Terrence Newman returned for a touchdown near the end of the game.
More like Amish cap gun.
He did toss a three-yard touchdown pass to David Nelson, a Dallas native who wound up giving the ball immediately to his girlfriend, who is a Cowboys cheerleader. (We think Jerry Jones was cool with that, given the fact his 'Boys wound up winning in a rout. Now, if they had lost, that cheerleader might have been looking for employment Monday morning.)
Fitz's TD pass cut the gap to 21-7, but any hopes that he and the Bills might stage the kind of dramatic comeback that characterized the first part of the season was snuffed out by a 14-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by DeMarco Murray's 1-yard run that boosted the cushion back to three touchdowns. It would only get worse for the Bills from there.
One of the story lines that many were hoping to develop Sunday was a duel between Fitzpatrick and Tony Romo, the peaks-and-valleys quarterback who tortures Cowboys fans with his inconsistency. Well, the duel never transpired. Or it was over by the second quarter as the good Romo showed up. The very good Romo. He connected on his first 13 throws - two of them going to Laurent Robinson for scores of 5- and 58-yards, and one of them to Dez Bryant for a 34-yard touchdown. Faster than you could say Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, the Cowboys had a 21-0 lead.
And Romo was on his way to a franchise record day. By completing 23 of 26 passes, he established a new Cowboys standard for accuracy (88 percent completion percentage) in a game.
Fitz, meanwhile, completed only 20-of-31 passes for 146 yards and was intercepted three times, including that aforementioned pick-six. The Bills possessions ended with those three interceptions, three punts, a missed field goal and a fumble by Fred Jackson, who lost a ball for the second straight week after having gone 14 games without a turnover.
While Fitzpatrick is the main reason for this slump that's seen Buffalo lose three of its last four, he's hardly been the only one in a funk. Jackson did go over 100 yards rushing for the sixth time this season, but that fumble erased a scoring opportunity and resulted in a Dallas field goal. And Fitz's receiving corps hasn't done him a lot of favors lately. Donald Jones let one slide off his hands for an interception and Stevie Johnson (two catches for eight yards) continues to struggle to prove that last year's big-season wasn't a fluke and that he deserves to be a No. 1 receiver.
It also can't be easy for Fitz to play behind a perpetually injured line that will now be forced to deal with the loss of its anchor - center Eric Wood - who joined the walking wounded with a banged-up knee.
The other big problem confronting the Bills is their defense, which continues to have serious short-comings. Buffalo was unable to put any pressure on Romo or stop Murray from piling up 135 yards on the ground. And Dallas's receivers, especially Robinson, who'd been cut by two different teams this season, consistently out-battled the Bills defenders for the ball.
Fitz's inconsistency of late, coupled with Buffalo's defensive woes and mounting injuries are causing even the most optimistic of Bills observers to wonder if the bottom isn't falling out. The concern is that 2008 is repeating itself and Buffalo is about to experience another second-half collapse of epic proportions.
Bills coach Chan Gailey says he believes in the character of his players and thinks that all the problems the team has encountered recently are fixable. But he also acknowledges that "we are more pretender than contender right now."
We knew this three-game road trip that kicked off in Dallas was going to be a telling stretch. Now, suddenly, that trip this Sunday to Miami to play a Dolphins team showing signs of life isn't going to be so easy. And after that, the Bills have to face the Jets again in the Meadowlands. That makes Sunday's game in Miami a must-win if this team wants to have even a remote shot at making the playoffs because I don't see them upsetting the Jets in Jersey.
They can still right themselves and make a run. But they have to get out of this funk in a hurry and begin playing with intensity and a sense of urgency.
Award-winning columnist and author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the mid-1960s and covered them since 1985, writing five books about the team along the way. His 14th book overall, Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story, has just been published by Triumph Books and is available both in print and digital editions. You can read more by Scott at .
SCOTT'S REPORT CARD
COACHING: Another poor effort by Chan Gailey and his staff. The team seemed flat, which is hard to fathom, considering they're still in the thick of things. Very disappointing. Grade: F
OFFENSE:. Ryan Fitzpatrick looked mediocre at best, tossing three picks while putting up just one score. Fred Jackson had some moments, but he lost a fumble for a second straight game. Offensive line gave up a sack and a pressure on the Bills first possession, and the receivers dropped a few and couldn't get much separation. Grade: F
DEFENSE:.Tony Romo hit his first 13 passes and threw for three touchdowns early against a defense that failed to pressure him and allowed receivers to win battles when the ball was up for grabs. DeMarco Murray went over 100. The unit took a step back and played like it did last season. Grade: D-minus
SPECIAL TEAMS: Dave Rayner missed 52-yard field goal attempt while filling in for the injured Rian Lindell. Brian Moorman boomed a 59-yard punt, and averaged 52 yards on the day. Grade: C
OVERALL: The team is in a downward spiral and needs a win in the worst way to get its confidence back. A few weeks ago, the Dolphins looked like a relatively easy mark. That's no longer the case as they notched their second win Sunday. Grade: F