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Ryan Fitzpatrick Returns to Cincinnati as One of the NFL’s Best

September 28th, 2011 at 7:01 AM
By Chuck Chapman

Ryan Fitzpatrick was given the unenviable task of taking over for an injured Carson Palmer in 2008. He started 12 games that season for perhaps the most dysfunctional Bengals team in history. Not only did Palmer miss the majority of the season with a bad elbow, but that was the season the Bengals lost David Pollack, Odell Thurman, Justin Smith, Madieu Williams, and Landon Johnson from the defense. Additionally, Rudi Johnson was cut, leaving Chris Perry as the number one back before Cedric Benson was eventually acquired and the late Chris Henry was in the midst of his controversial suspension-marred career. Fitzpatrick's only offensive weapons in those days were Chad Ochocinco and kicker Shayne Graham. Fitzpatrick finished the year having completed 59% of his passes for 1905 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for over 300 yards and a pair of scores. Unsurprisingly, Fitzpatrick declined an offer to re-sign with the team in the off season and shuffled quietly off to Buffalo.

It wasn't much better for the former Harvard signal caller in upstate New York. He was stuck behind Trent Edwards and the Bills had just cut ties with JP Losman, their failed experiment at quarterback. Fitzpatrick had left the Ochocinco drama behind in Cincinnati, but he got the TO show in exchange as the eccentric wide receiver played his lone season in Buffalo. The Bills would stagger to a 3-6 record before firing head coach Dick Jauron. It was at that point Fitzpatrick took over as the Buffalo starter.

The remainder of 2009 looked an awful lot like 2008 in Cincinnati for Fitzpatrick. He threw nine touchdowns to ten interceptions and the Bills finished an unremarkable 3-4 with Fitzpatrick at the helm. There was nothing to suggest that Ryan Fitzpatrick was the Bills' quarterback of the future. Then they hired Chan Gailey.

Gailey was a respected NFL offensive mind, having successful stints in Pittsburgh and Dallas, including serving as Cowboys' head coach, guiding them to the playoffs in each of his seasons there. Edwards was given first shot at the quarterback job, but failed so miserably, he was cut in week three. By default Fitzpatrick was the starter again.

Although the Bills would finish 4-12, little of that could be pinned on Fitzpatrick. He threw for over 3000 yards, 23 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions. He found a go-to target in second year receiver Stevie Johnson and a running game with Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller. 

Still, not much was expected of the Bills headed into this season. In a division with New England and the New York Jets, there was no way this young team would contend. After last week's come from behind shocker against New England, the Bills now sit alone atop the AFC East. Ryan Fitzpatrick has taken them there, throwing nine touchdowns and only three interceptions thus far.

When Fitzpatrick takes the field at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, he will be attempting to lead the Bills to their first 4-0 start since Jim Kelly did so back in 1992. At one time, Fitzpatrick was only known as the guy from Harvard who aced the Wonderlic Test before the draft. Now he's know as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.

Tags: Chan Gailey, Cincinnati, Cincinnati Bengals, Football, NFL, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Stevie Johnson

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