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Can Mario Williams be Buffalo's offensive MVP?

By Tim Graham

When the Buffalo Bills took defensive end Mario Williams and receiver Robert Meachem out to dinner at Tempo on the first day of the free-agent signing period and Meachem sneaked out a back window to go sign with the San Diego Chargers, one would assume Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was disappointed.

But Fitzpatrick actually got help for his offense when the Bills added Williams and, later, defensive end Mark Anderson and cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

A significantly improved defense should keep the game closer, and, as I'm about to show you, that would be a ginormous help for Fitzpatrick in 2012.

Out of curiosity, I researched the stats of all quarterbacks when trailing by two scores (between nine and 16 points) last year.

As expected, Fitzpatrick was in that situation a lot.

As expected, Fitzpatrick didn't perform well.

But I don't just mean on the surface. He often was down by two scores and often faltered relative to the other 32 quarterbacks who qualified for the NFL's passing rating.

Fitzpatrick threw 122 passes last year when trailing by two scores, fourth-most in the league behind only Josh Freeman, Mark Sanchez and Philip Rivers.

Many point to a supposed Fitzpatrick rib injury as the reason the Bills fell apart in the second half of the 2012 season. But the Bills' 26th-rated defense didn't do him many favors.

From Week 9 on, the Bills trailed by at least two scores in seven of their nine games. They lost all of them. The Bills were down at least nine points by the first or second quarter four times in November and December.

It's not easy for a quarterback to operate effectively when he's playing with a big deficit and the defense knows he must throw.

Fitzpatrick had a 71.4 passer rating when trailing by two scores, completing 59.8 percent of his throws with four touchdowns and five interceptions.

Seven quarterbacks had lower passer ratings, and they're not exactly a Murderer's Row: Matt Moore (70.8), Tarvaris Jackson (70.6), Sam Bradford (67.8), Blaine Gabbert (62.8), Curtis Painter (60.7), Matt Shaub (50.3, but on only seven attempts, an amazing number when you think about it) and Christian Ponder (42.7).

Twenty quarterbacks had passer ratings of at least 82.1 when down by two scores, and a dozen posted at least 90.2 ratings.

Sanchez had an impressive 95.8 rating, with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was second in the NFL with a 115.0 rating. Brady's 66 attempts ranked 17th out of the 33 passers on the chart.

Of those who qualified, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith had the highest rating when down two scores, but he threw just 12 passes in those situations and posted a gaudy 128.5.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |