Fitzpatrick: Bills look forward to tough test


Fitzpatrick: Bills look forward to tough test

By Mary Paoletti Staff Reporter Follow @mary_paoletti
FOXBORO -- Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is a smart guy. The Harvard Guy, remember? But it doesn't take an Ivy degree to know the Patriots will be Buffalo's toughest opponent in the season's first three weeks.

That fact doesn't diminish the Bills' 2-0 record, their 79 total points on offense, or their league-best 190.0 average rushing yards. This is just one of those dates on the schedule that gets circled in red every single year. And since 2003, the record shows a 15-0 advantage to New England.

So Fitzpatrick knows he and his teammates have to amplify the charging effort they've made to open things up.

"I think the Patriots, in general, always present a tough challenge for us," the quarterback said on a Wednesday conference call. "Obviously, the streak and the number of games we've played without beating them . . . They're tough. They're very physical up front. Obviously, they've got two of the bigger bodies, more effective guys in the league playing in the middle, fast in the linebacking corps. They play a lot of man coverage.

"Think that their corners do a good job," he continued. "I think they've given up a lot of yards, but the main reason why is because they've been ahead in games and teams have been forced to throw on every down. We really respect them here and I think they play good defense."

But respect and fear are two very different animals. Though Fitzpatrick is mindful of the force his blue collar Bills face, he likes the team's attitude. After Week 2's 38-35 win in Oakland he told Peter King that the naivete of the young and unsung players gives them a unique edge.

And he thinks it will stand up against the Patriots power-packed roster.

"We're a team full of guys that are looking to make a name for ourselves; we're looking to make a name for our team," Fitzpatrick said. "Although most of us are unheralded and nobody really knows us, we think that we're pretty good and we think that we've got a lot of talent on the roster.

"When I made the comment last week, it was basically that a lot of our guys are so young that they don't realize they're not supposed to go out and score 39.5 points or whatever it is that we're averaging. They feel like that's normal. So, for us, it's keeping that confidence and just keeping the swagger that we have right now and going out there and getting the job done."

This game will be considered a measuring stick. Do the Bills finally have what it takes for a winning season? Or will it be the same old Buffalo song? While a loss wouldn't be damning, a win would be exceptional.

Fitzpatrick considers the implications on a more local level. Turns out, it's a big deal every where he turns.

"We've got to be able to beat the teams in our division to get to where we need to be. And I think, you know, for us, this being our first division game, it takes on that much more importance to us just because it almost takes on extra significance being that, a win here gives you a win and gives a team in your division a loss. So it's extra significant for that reason."

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Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard


Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

FOXBORO -- Joe Thuney may not have won the starting left guard job officially, but Bill Belichick says he's on the right track. And for a rookie, that's feat in and of itself.

The third-round pick out of North Carolina State -- you may remember it as the Kevin-Faulk-in-the-No.-12-jersey selection -- has been the first-team left guard since the start of training camp, and he hasn't moved since. Thuney has occasionally taken snaps at center, and the Patriots have him learning multiple spots behind the scenes. But every time Nate Solder has run on to the field as the left tackle, Thuney has been there by his side at guard. 

Even going back to OTAs, held not long after he was drafted, Thuney was the top choice at that position. 

"Joe has done a good job with what we’ve given him," Belichick said. "There was a point where we felt comfortable making that, I’d say temporary move, It wasn’t permanent. But he has handled it well. I think he’s certainly moving towards being able to lock something down at some point. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think he is certainly gaining on it. He has had a good preseason, had a good spring."

What once may have been deemed a temporary move back in the spring -- perhaps due to players like Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson and Josh Kline dealing with injuries early in the offseason -- now seems like it should be a permanent one.

Thuney's run as the No. 1 left guard has been uninterrupted because his performance hasn't warranted a change. He's held his own against former first-round defensive tackle Malcom Brown in one-on-one practice drills, and he's been the highest-graded player on the Patriots offensive line through two preseason games, per Pro Football Focus. (The only players with higher grades on the team through two games are tight end AJ Derby and defensive end Trey Flowers.)

The man who went viral before the draft for his ability to solve a Rubik's cube in just over a minute has flashed an understanding of how quickly things move on the inside. Plus, playing under unretired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Thuney has been quick himself, both picking up pressures and working to the second level in the running game with aplomb.

Thuney will still have a preseason game or two to solidify his grasp on a starting role, but even for the brief period during which Mason and Kline were simultaneously healthy, Thuney was the choice on the left side of the interior offensive line. Now that Mason is dealing with what's been reported as a hand injury, Jackson remains on PUP, and Jonathan Cooper is still out after suffering a foot injury early in camp, the job seems like Thuney's to lose.

That Belichick even hinted Thuney is "gaining on it" is an indication of just how impressive he's been during his short time as a pro.