For years the Buffalo Bills have been a bottom dweller in the AFC. They've failed to make the playoffs for the last 12 seasons with double digit losses in seven. The 2011 season was expected to be more of the same, and while it was in the end the general perception was that the Bills were ready to break out.
Then came the first game of the 2012 season, a gut-wrenching 28-48 loss to the New York Jets; a team that had failed to score an offensive touchdown until the final game of the preseason (and by the third team).
Does that mean the faith and confidence the team had coming into the season was misplaced and not deserved? Was it injuries that caused the epic slide at the end of the '11 season or had they just gotten lucky during the first half when they went 5-2?
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick wasted no time in making it abundantly clear how the team viewed the epic loss against the Jets and how it relates to the 2012 season:
I know the guys in the locker room we are still excited about the year. We are still confident. We just got a lot of work to do. The game of football especially in the NFL is a very humbling game and when you think you have it tends to humble you. This was a wake-up call for us.
The question now is whether that was just lip service or can the Bills actually back it up.
Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller appeared to be the next running back tandem to take the league by storm last season with both averaging over five yards a carry. Stevie Johnson continued to make the most of his playing time doing enough to be named the starter.
Fitzpatrick made a splash in the league when he got a spot start for the Rams in the '05 season, going 19-30 for 310 yards, three TDs, and one interception. However, over the next four seasons he was hardly ever considered the go to guy; he was always the place holder until the team feels it had someone better to try.
His play never showed that he deserved to be the starter, but that he was just the lesser of the team's evils. That all changed at the beginning of last season. Suddenly he was accurate and making good decisions. His touchdown to interception ratio was 2:1.
The defense was doing enough to slow people down and Fitzpatrick had the offense running like a well-oiled machine. After getting off to a 5-2 start people started to believe that the longest playoff drought in the league was final going to come to an end. Then came one injury after another and eight losses in nine games; another poor finish for the woeful Buffalo Bills.
So then why is Fitzpatrick so confident the team will bounce back? Because that's what leaders do. They believe they are going to win-always. If they don't, who will? When healthy he knows the team can do well; it has in the past.
We'll find out how justified his confidence is when the Bills take on the Kansas City Chiefs at home this Sunday.