Capitals

Bills QB Fitzpatrick eager to regain swagger

201211041333487840791-p2.jpeg

Bills QB Fitzpatrick eager to regain swagger

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) It was a feel-good story while it lasted: Harvard quarterback gets the Buffalo Bills off to a surprising start and is rewarded with lucrative contract extension.

A year later, Ryan Fitzpatrick needs to only look at his inconsistent production and losing record to understand why the national attention and colorful ``Fitz-Magic'' references have disappeared, replaced instead by questions about his immediate future.

And general manager Buddy Nix didn't need to go public last week in expressing a desire to draft a ``franchise quarterback'' in order to get Fitzpatrick's attention.

``I understand what happens in the NFL. I understand that it's a performance-based business,'' Fitzpatrick said Wednesday, noting the two had a long chat in the GM's office. ``For quarterbacks, you have to win games or else.''

That now becomes the challenge for the eighth-year NFL journeyman and former seventh-round draft pick, who remains upbeat even while appreciating that he's running out of chances to prove himself.

``I'm confident. I know there's a lot of doubt outside,'' Fitzpatrick said. ``I'm the guy. I'm the guy that's supposed to turn this thing around. And you know, we've still got eight games to do it.''

The Bills (3-5) and Fitzpatrick find themselves at a crossroad in preparing to play at AFC East rival New England (5-3), where Buffalo's lost 11 straight.

Buffalo finds itself in the familiar position of falling out of the playoff race entirely, and potentially extending its postseason drought to 13 seasons.

As for Fitzpatrick, he's lacked the swagger he possessed in getting the Bills off to a 5-2 start last year. It was a run that included the quarterback rallying the team from double-digit deficits to beat Oakland and New England on consecutive weekends.

Since signing a six-year, $59 million contract extension last October, he's gone 4-13 while throwing 25 touchdowns and 25 interceptions and losing three fumbles.

Not all of the blame falls on him. Injuries have taken a toll. Fitzpatrick showed perseverance in playing with a severe chest injury for much of the final half of last season. It hasn't helped that the burden has been placed on the offense to score in bunches to offset a defense that's allowed an average 31 points over its past 17 games.

And yet, Fitzpatrick is being faulted for a growing string of inefficient outings that have carried over into this year.

His three interceptions against the Jets all led to touchdowns in a 48-28 season-opening loss. And then there was Fitzpatrick's underthrown pass that was picked off at midfield with 1:54 left that set up the decisive touchdown in a 35-34 loss to Tennessee three weeks ago.

Though he's been far more efficient in his past four games (two interceptions and two lost fumbles), the Bills have gone 1-3 and combined for just 65 points.

``I'm not going to sit here and say I've played great by any stretch of the imagination,'' Fitzpatrick said. ``I think I've just got to continue to stick with it. I do think I feel more comfortable.''

Coach Chan Gailey said Fitzpatrick's inconsistencies have mirrored those of his entire team. As for assessing whether Fitzpatrick's long-term future is in question, Gailey said that's something to discuss after the season.

``That's not even right to talk about,'' he said. ``Everybody goes out and does the best they can, and then you evaluate everything when you get to the end of the year.''

Tight end Scott Chandler has no doubt Fitzpatrick has what it takes.

``We're not worried about him. We're behind him 100 percent,'' Chandler said. ``We believe in him. And we believe we're going to turn this thing around, get it going in the right direction and finish this season strong.''

Fitzpatrick is 18-28 in three-plus seasons with the Bills. He took over the starting job three weeks into the 2010 season after Trent Edwards was benched and then cut the following week.

After splitting his first four seasons between St. Louis and Cincinnati, Fitzpatrick understands starting opportunities such as these don't come along often - and many times never for seventh-round draft picks.

This could well be now or never for him.

``For me, it's not like I get a shot at this, and if it doesn't work out I can go somewhere else and do the same thing,'' Fitzpatrick said. ``This is my shot. This is everything that I've worked for. And I know that it's either going to work here or that's going to be it in terms of being able to be the guy.''

---

NOTES: WR Stevie Johnson (bruised thigh) was held out of practice Wednesday, but said he expects to be ready to play on Sunday. ... CB Leodis McKelvin will start in place of Aaron Williams, who's expected to miss two weeks with a right knee injury. ... Mary Wilson, wife of Bills owner Ralph Wilson, has been selected to receive the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition Community Leadership award for her work in founding the Western New York Girls in Sports program in 2004.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

Quick Links

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.