Winning hasn't been easy for the Bills this season. The team won three of its first 13 games, with the three wins coming against opponents that had combined for 10 wins entering Week 15 action. The Bills have lost in nearly every way imaginable, from being blown out by sub-.500 teams (38-14 to the Vikings) to dropping games by narrow margins to playoff-bound squads (three-point losses to the Ravens, Chiefs, Bears and Steelers).
The losses have come because of a variety of reasons, but a common theme has been poor execution at the end of games. No matter if it's the offense or defense that needs to come through with a big play, Buffalo has been let down multiple times throughout the season.
On Sunday in South Florida, they earned victory No. 4 thanks to strong passing early in the game, tough defense down the stretch and a bit of luck from the Dolphins' kicking game. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick threaded two passes into tight coverage for touchdowns, helping the Bills to a 17-14 victory, their first win over an AFC East opponent since Nov. 29, 2009.
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Fitzpatrick is never going to have Tom Brady's poise in the pocket or Peyton Manning's ability to hit receivers at the millisecond they become open or Michael Vick's game-changing speed. The sixth-year pro from Harvard is always going to have to get by on intelligence, an average arm, solid footwork and a knack for finding open teammates. He's not Drew Brees-level good, but as anybody who watches the Bills on a regular basis will attest to, he's not Trent Edwards-bad either. A week before Christmas, it was two beautiful throws by the big, bearded QB that gave the Bills the gift of their fourth win.
The first came in the second quarter, on a 3rd-and-goal from the Dolphins' 18. Buffalo had been pushed back after a penalty, and it appeared they were going to be forced to attempt a field goal. Out of the shotgun, Fitzpatrick looked first to Donald Jones, who was running a shallow crossing route over the middle of the field, but just as he was about to throw, he locked in on David Nelson, who was coming across the field from the other direction, only about 15 yards deeper. Blanketed by three defenders, Nelson caught the pass just as he crossed the goal line, and the rookie receiver showed great concentration to not only find the ball, but to come down with it and score the first points of the game.
Midway through the third quarter, with the Bills up 10-7, Fitzpatrick made another outstanding touchdown pass. With the ball on the Miami 15, the QB dropped back, looked for an open man, and launched a throw to the front of the endzone. Stevie Johnson, who had a step on Dolphins CB Sean Smith, leapt to both catch the ball and block out Smith from making a play. The receiver came down with another six points, thanks in large part to the throw that was exactly where it needed to be for Johnson to haul it in.
A lot of talk surrounding the Bills has concerned what they plan on doing next April in the draft. If the season ended today, Buffalo would have the sixth pick in the draft. Facing the Patriots and Jets the next two weeks, it would be a surprise if the team grabbed another victory, which could help them move up in the draft order. Still they appear to have little chance of grabbing the No. 1 overall pick and having the right to select Stanford QB Andrew Luck, the consensus top player if he chooses to leave school.
Fitzpatrick has shown though, both Sunday in Miami and the entire season, that he is good enough to lead this team. Luck would be a tremendous acquisition and the Bills would be foolish to pass on him if they are given the opportunity to bring him aboard, but QB is far from the team's top need at this point. A stud left tackle, some impact pass rushers, a physical presence on the defensive line and versatile tight end are all higher priorities than quarterback at this point, thanks in large part to the improvement Fitzpatrick has made in 2010.