Harvard, Patriots Square Off Sunday
Perhaps, as a Harvard football fan, I should be rooting for Ryan Fitzpatrick ’04 and the up-and-coming Buffalo Bills to win this weekend against the much more established New England Patriots. But I’ve been a Pats fan for a lot longer than I’ve been a student here. So to be completely honest, I hope New England manhandles Buffalo. Don’t take it personally; I wish it on everyone the Patriots face.
But I suppose I could tolerate a Fitzpatrick touchdown or two or three, as long as Tom Brady throws for more. And any New England fan who’d also like to see Fitzpatrick perform admirably should be excited about this coming weekend.
In its first two weekends, the Patriots (2-0) have demonstrated themselves to be exactly the kind of team a New England-Harvard fusion fan would want Fitzpatrick to face: one with a soft enough defense to allow Fitzpatrick to score and a strong enough offense to render his moments of glory inconsequential.
In week one, the Pats defense was weak enough to allow the Miami Dolphins to ring up 24 points and quarterback Chad Henne to throw for 416 yards. There are plenty of reasons to believe that Fitzpatrick could be able to dismantle the New England defense similarly. As has become common knowledge among Crimson football fans by now, Fitzpatrick threw for 208 yards and four touchdowns in the Bills’ 41-7 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs (0-2).
He followed it up with another strong outing against the Oakland Raiders (1-1) in which he threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns in Buffalo’s 38-35 victory.
But as impressive as Fitzpatrick’s performances have been this season, it’s hard to know what to make of the Bills’ early season victories. A weekend after falling to Buffalo, the Chiefs lost by an even larger margin, 48-3, to the Detroit Lions. While the Lions (2-0) are supposed to be good this year, it also appears blowout losses may become a habit for Kansas City this year.
Sports Illustrated currently has the Chiefs ranked dead last in its power rankings. The win over the Raiders seems to have much more gravity, as Oakland won its week one contest against the Denver Broncos, who edged out the Cincinnati Bengals, 24-22, this past weekend.
It’s hard to fault the Bills for only winning by 34 points, and the win against the Raiders may prove to mean something down the road.
But the fact remains that Buffalo has yet to face a team of the Patriots’ caliber.
New England’s performance in week two against the San Diego Chargers should cloud the optimism of Bills’ fans. Not only did Brady continue to impress, but the Patriots’ defense had what was, at least in my opinion, a much more respectable outing than it did against Miami (which isn’t saying much).
While the games are statistically similar in a lot of ways, allowing the Chargers 470 yards is much more palatable than allowing the Dolphins 488. While San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns, the Patriots also picked him off twice, which accounted for two of New England’s four turnovers on defense. The Patriots' defense may rank second-to-last in the league right now in passing yards (thank you, Bleacher Report), but its particular brand of defense, though mostly bad, might be able to stifle Fitzpatrick.
While the Harvard grad’s touchdown count has been impressive, he hasn’t thrown for that many overall yards. This should make for an interesting matchup against a New England defense that may not be particularly adept at slowly down offenses but has proven itself to be tough in the red zone and good at picking off signal callers. The Patriots did mount one goal-line stand against the Chargers, and they seem to have improved from their week one nap in Miami. Moreover, New England’s interception stats should have Fitzpatrick worried, as the quarterback was picked off three times in the teams’ most recent matchup, a 34-3 Patriots victory, and twice in the teams’ contest before that, a 38-30 New England victory.
But the Patriots also have reason to fear Fitzpatrick. Though he was picked off three times last December, he also threw for 251 yards, and the Harvard grad had 247 yards and two touchdowns in the teams’ game last September.
I disagree with the Bleacher Report’s prediction that Fitzpatrick will have 320 yards this weekend. I just don’t see him earning more yards against New England than he did against either Kansas City or Oakland. But I do think he’ll get in the end zone, probably twice. I can’t see Buffalo winning. But I certainly predict a chill or two down my spine.
—Staff writer Christina C. McClintock can be reached at email@example.com.