The Buffalo Bills had the New York Jets' number in 2015, the first year of Rex Ryan's tenure as head coach in Buffalo. The Jets lost two contests to the Bills, each by the identical score of 22-17. The net total of 10 points separating the two teams in 2015 were extremely costly to the Jets. Had the two contests both gone the Jets' way, the New York Jets would have ended the reign of the New England Patriots as AFC East champions and would have earned a first round bye in the playoffs. They would have been one win away from a trip to the AFC Championship game. Instead the Jets watched the playoffs on television.
The difference in these two contests was, to a substantial extent, the play of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick had passer ratings below 60 in both of the Buffalo games, two of only three games all year Fitzpatrick had a passer rating below 60. Fitzpatrick had a passer rating below 70 four times in 2015, and the Jets lost all four games. In the 11 other games in which Fitzpatrick played a majority of the game and registered a passer rating over 70, the Jets were 10-1.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has a lifetime record of 1-9 against Rex Ryan's teams. Some media sources have used that statistic to spin the narrative that Rex "owns" Fitzpatrick, or that Rex is "inside Fitzpatrick's head." It's an interesting narrative, but the reality may be more nuanced than that. Every time Ryan Fitzpatrick faced a Rex Ryan team prior to 2012, Fitzpatrick's teams were at a large talent deficit compared to Rex's Ravens and Jets teams. When you have the much inferior team, you tend to lose, and this is what Fitzpatrick's teams did. However, in 2012, when the talent levels were more even, Fitzpatrick and the Bills split with Rex and the Jets, each team winning at home. Fitzpatrick's Bills put up 28 points in each contest. That is hardly the stuff of Rex's so called ownership of Fitzpatrick.
The next time Fitzpatrick faced a Rex Ryan coached team as the starter, Rex and Fitzpatrick had swapped teams. It was in 2015, and Fitzpatrick was now a Jet and Rex was now a Bill. Rex and the Bills clearly got the better of Fitzpatrick and the Jets in 2015, which brings us to the stat of the week. In 2015 Rex Ryan's Bills held the opposing quarterback below 200 yards passing five times. Fitzpatrick was held below 200 yards twice by the Bills. The other three times opposing quarterbacks were held below 200 yards by the Bills came against rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, second year quarterback Blake Bortles, and Kellen Moore of the Cowboys, who has started two NFL games in his career. Rex Ryan has a well earned reputation for getting the better of inexperienced quarterbacks. Using his exotic looks and blitz packages Rex tends to confuse inexperienced opponents with things they've never seen before, resulting in bad reads and costly mistakes. What is somewhat alarming is that Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't fit this mold, yet was reduced to playing like a rookie against the Bills in 2015.
Now the stat of the week. In the five games the Bills held opponents under 200 yards passing the Bills had a 4-1 record, losing only to the Jacksonville Jaguars when the Bills offense turned the ball over a season high four times. In the remaining 11 games in which the Bills' opponents had more than 200 yards passing, the Bills produced a record of 4-7. Passing against the Bills was not all that difficult in 2015. The Bills ranked 19th in the NFL in passing yards allowed, 22nd in passing touchdowns allowed. Yet the Jets could not get their passing game going, despite having a talent advantage with Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall at wide receiver. The blame can't all be placed on Fitzpatrick; football is a team game, and there are always multiple culprits in losses. But Fitzpatrick bears a good portion of the blame in games where just an average passing performance would likely have resulted in two Jets wins.
The Bills under Rex win when they severely limit opponents' passing attacks. When they don't, and they didn't more often than not in 2015, the Bills usually lose. In a crucial matchup on Thursday, Ryan Fitzpatrick probably doesn't need to be great. He just needs to avoid playing like a rookie. If Rex actually is in Fitzpatrick's head then we should expect another effort much like the Bengals game, in which Fitzpatrick fails to clear the pedestrian mark of 200 yards passing and hurts the Jets with a turnover. If, on the other hand, Fitzpatrick is not owned by Rex, then there's never been a better time than Thursday to show it with something like a 250+ yard effort with a couple of touchdowns and no turnovers. That would be a good, but far from spectacular, effort by Fitzpatrick, and it would likely result in a Jets victory.
So is Fitzpatrick owned by Rex, or were the 2015 performances random bad games? We may find out tomorrow. The Jets need some semblance of a good NFL passing attack in the game to have a fair chance at emerging with a win. We'll see if Fitzpatrick is up to the challenge.