I was a few Caged Alpha Monkey IPA’s in and my eyelids were getting heavy at halftime of the Bills vs. Vikings preseason game. What a snoozer. Even the most diligent Bills fan had to have grown drowsy by this point, either lulled to sleep by the Bills’ milquetoast game plan or driven to daydreaming by Ray Bentley’s idle banter with Mark Kelso. But then, if only for a moment, I perked up.
On the first play from scrimmage in the second half of the second preseason game, Vince Young found rookie burner T.J. Graham on a 64-yard connection that stood out as the marquee moment for a Bills offense struggling to find its way halfway through the preseason. It gave Bills fans a sense that, despite what we’ve seen in eight quarters of exhibition football, big play potential is alive and well in Orchard Park. It also gave John Murphy (@JohnMurphyShow) reason to say that Young “made a strong, bold statement” in his competition with Tyler Thigpen to be the Bills’ backup quarterback this year.
Ok John Murphy, I’ll play along. But we all know that Vince Young has had Tyler Thigpen beaten out for this backup quarterback role since the Rose Bowl. Regardless of Young’s inconsistent play and off-the-field issues and despite Thigpen’s close working relationship with head coach Chan Gailey, the former has had the edge on the latter like Rex Ryan has the edge on a box of doughnuts.
But let’s assume that, in the third preseason game against Pittsburgh on Saturday night, Ryan Fitzpatrick looks like, well, Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’ll hit his check-downs, he’ll hand off to Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller (a lot), and he’ll misfire on a few throws that the elite quarterbacks in the NFL complete routinely. And let’s also assume that Vince Young plays like himself; he’ll throw darts into tight spots with ease, he’ll avoid pressure with his upper-echelon athletic ability, and he too will botch a couple plays he should probably make. But he’ll also give you that big play potential and dynamic athleticism.
It’s true that preseason games are as meaningless as Kim Kardashian’s wedding vows, but if Young outshines Fitzpatrick in this Pittsburgh game we may, just may, begin to hear the rumblings of a quarterback controversy at One Bills Drive. I know, I know, I know…the internet police, in conjunction with ESPN, have put a strict ban on talking about any quarterback competitions outside of the ongoing Tebow/Sanchez saga. It’s ok, Sal Paolantonio said it was cool.
Let’s be clear though. If Mack Brown and Vince Young’s mom suddenly usurped Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix for control of our beloved Bills, Ryan Fitzpatrick would still be the opening day starter. He has the big contract and credibility built up in the first half of last season. He has the city and the locker room in his corner. It’s Ryan Fitzpatrick’s team and he has been justifiably given a lot of rope, a big margin for error. Things will stay relatively quiet if he’s a middling performer and the Bills hover around .500.
But let’s say they lose a few in a row. It’s human nature to want to see if the grass just might be greener on the other side, especially if the perception is that the revamped defense seems to be holding up its end of things. And we’re seeing in the preseason that Vince Young might be ready to realize that potential on which he was drafted third overall in 2006. He’s a one-year-contract guy, the NFL equivalent to living paycheck to paycheck. In his seventh year in the league, Young may very well be at the point in his life and career for everything to come together.
If the season doesn’t go as well as we all think and hope it will from the outset, it would be actually be surprising if we didn’t start to hear some rumblings about the quarterback position, especially if the offense’s struggles can be partially attributed to shoddy offensive line play, which is well within the realm of possibility. It’s fairly easy to imagine a scenario in which Bills fans begin to clamor for a more mobile quarterback who can escape a collapsing pocket, create opportunities with his feet, and who also happens to have a cannon attached to his right shoulder.
On paper the two are classic pick ‘em. Fitzpatrick, drafted in 2005, has played in 58 games, completed 59% of his passes, and has a career passer rating of 75.0. Vince Young was drafted in 2006 and has played in 60 games in which he has completed 57.9% of his passes and accumulated a passer rating of 74.5. The statistics suggest the gulf between Buffalo’s starter and backup is not very wide at all. In fact, since their career statistics are virtually indistinguishable, one may even venture that Young should be the starter due to the physical gifts he possesses that Fitzpatrick lacks.
This is not the case right now, nor should it be. Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown he has the ability to run an offense with efficiency and poise and it is absolutely his job to lose. But the quarterback who plays all 16 regular season games of his team’s season is a rare breed in the NFL. Of course we all want to see Fitzpatrick play every game and end our ridiculous playoff drought. But if he is unable to regain his beginning-of-last-season form or if he is forced off the field due to injury, the odds are that we will see Vince Young take the field at some point in this season. It will be interesting to see how that goes. Thankfully, we don’t have a quarterback controversy on our hands right now. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one lurking in the not too distant future.
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