By Mary Paoletti
FOXBORO -- For the second time in two years, 27-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick is being given the reins of the Buffalo Bills. But instead of replacing an injured Number One, this time he is being asked to perform better than the healthy-but-struggling Trent Edwards.
It would be a lot of pressure for the quarterback of the new-look Bills anyway, even if Fitzpatrick's first start of 2010 wasn't coming against the New England Patriots. But it is, so it's a good thing he's smart. Ivy League smart.
Tom Brady is just one of many people who is aware of it.
"I got a General Studies degree from Michigan, barely,'' Brady laughed. "He's one of those Harvard guys . . . we've had a few of those around here. We're not getting into a math contest, thank God.''
No, the two QBs won't be facing off on the Wonderlic this Sunday. But the best quarterbacks are smart -- they're quick thinkers and proficient problem-solvers -- and Fitzpatrick's Harvard education won't hurt in that capacity. It's also important to remember that his Finance degree isn't what's earned him a starting job in the NFL this week. Fitzpatrick is a good football player. He's the kind of guy Bill Belichick would never underestimate.
"Hes a strong-armed guy, can get the ball down the field. He has a little more experience. Hes been in a couple different systems,'' New England's coach remarked. "Hes a smart guy, handles himself well. He's a good quarterback. We had a hard time with him last year there.''
The Patriots did win that December game, 17-10, but Fitzpatrick didn't make it easy for them. The quarterback kept Buffalo in the game by finding Lee Evans for a fourth-quarter touchdown and some late-game agitation for New England's defense. It was impressive that Fitzpatrick stayed tough; the Patriots sacked him four times that day.
On Wednesday, Belichick didn't credit his team's pressure to any weakness of The Crimson Kid.
"I dont think it was specific to Fitzpatrick. If guys come free up front, then they come free. I think hes a relatively mobile, athletic guy. This week will be a new challenge,'' he said. "I dont think that's really an issue with him. He's a tough guy. He'll stand there in the pocket. Every quarterback gets hit sooner or later.''
Patriots safety Patrick Chung was also complimentary of Buffalo's backup.
"Obviously we know he's a running quarterback,'' Chung remarked. "He can run it, he can pass it, he's got a strong arm . . . He's smart. There's a lot of fast guys at Harvard; he was one of them. He's a good player.''
A smart player. A good player. A guy who will be playing to earn a starting role. The Patriots would be wise not to undervalue the geek on the gridiron this Sunday. It sounds like they won't.