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Bills QB Fitzpatrick earns respect of teammates

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PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP)

Ryan Fitzpatrick is the first to acknowledge he still faces questions about his consistency and mechanics. The rest of the qualities it takes to being a successful quarterback - poise, toughness, and confidence - the Buffalo Bills starter appears to have down pat.

From the ability to take a big hit and play hurt, as Fitzpatrick did last season, or accepting pressure and blame, he's not wavered. Whether it's taking his offensive linemen out to dinner or merely remembering something simple as birthdays or the first name of a player's wife, his actions have resonated through the locker room.

''We wouldn't trade him for anybody,'' center Eric Wood said Tuesday. ''He's our guy.''

Or as coach Chan Gailey says: ''He can win championships.''

That's high praise for a journeyman seventh-round draft pick out of Harvard, who is on his third team in eight seasons and lost far more games than he's won, including a 15-24 record with the Bills (No. 19 in the AP Pro32).

There's more to the numbers, his teammates say.

''You can't put it all on him,'' receiver Stevie Johnson said. ''We all have to do our parts.''

If there's any more pressure on Fitzpatrick entering a critical stage of his career in an attempt to play up to the six-year, $59 million contract extension he signed in October, the quarterback's not showing it.

''I wouldn't even think he'd be facing pressure right now the way he's out there. He's so cool,'' Johnson added. ''He seems so comfortable.''

Like the beard he's begun to grow in each of the past three offseasons, Fitzpatrick remains unchanged even as the stakes have been raised. He's maintains a dry, self-deprecating wit, and is open to ribbing teammates, sharing nicknames of assistant coaches and about how bad his golf game is these days.

''I love it,'' Fitzpatrick said, referring to how much pressure might be on him. ''If I didn't love it, I don't think I'd play the position. That's why I do it. I want all of the pressure to fall on me so that the other guys can just go out there and play.''

And yet, Fitzpatrick will acknowledge he has to play better and with more consistency.

''That's really going to be the test for me, and not just Week 1 through Week 5,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''It's going to be the whole season.''

That was the problem last year. After helping the team get off to a surprising 5-2 start, Fitzpatrick and the Bills then unraveled by going 1-8 the rest of the way.

The wins and losses mirrored Fitzpatrick's production. Through seven games, he had 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Over his final nine games, he had 10 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

It didn't help that the Bills were so banged up on defense that it placed far too much pressure on the offense to produce in order to keep up. Buffalo's offense was also riddled with injuries, and not designed to have Fitzpatrick come out throwing as much as he did.

The Bills went 4-0 when Fitzpatrick made 29 or fewer pass attempts. And they went 2-10 when he attempted 30 or more.

Fitzpatrick won't acknowledge it, but teammates will mention how he continued playing through a severe chest injury sustained during a 23-0 win over Washington in late October.

''He showed a lot of guts to us last year,'' Wood said. ''He proved a lot to us in the way he came in, week in and week out.''

Fitzpatrick has spent much of the offseason working on improving his mechanics with new quarterbacks coach David Lee. The work has shown signs of paying off a week into training camp. Fitzpatrick has been sharp in hitting receivers with throws to their back shoulders, something he's previously struggled with. And he's been very consistent in hitting players on the run over the middle.

''I've got a lot of belief in myself, and I think that if I didn't believe in myself, I probably would have quit playing football after I was done with Harvard,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''I'm ready to go out there and play. I've proved it. I've showed it. I've played well in stretches. But I think consistency is the big thing, and I know I can do it.''

There's more to Fitzpatrick than production and numbers, tight end Scott Chandler said. Chandler will never forget how impressed he was when he first introduced his wife Alissa to Fitzpatrick, and the quarterback already knew her first name.

''It's stuff like that that makes people feel good and makes them feel wanted,'' Chandler said. ''He's genuinely interested in you and your well-being. That's a quality that not very many people have. And it's a great one to have in a quarterback.''

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Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Tagged: Bills, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Scott Chandler

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