Ryan Fitzpatrick's interception to end the game in New England had plenty of people knee-jerking to blame the QB. The pick really isn't on Fitz. It's not just lip service from the team - check the tape.
4th Quarter - New England leads 37-31 - Bills face 2nd and 10 at NE 15 with :28 seconds remaining -
The Bills show a 5 WR set with an empty backfield for Ryan Fitzpatrick. New England rushes three and drops 8 back into coverage on the play. What you'll see through these pictures is that it appears the QB and WR are not on the same page. We've heard as that through the week. TJ Graham took responsibility for running the wrong route. There's plenty to question on the play.
Why is TJ running a route he'd never run before? (Stevie Johnson said that)
Why is Chan Gailey electing to call a play that is designed to go to a rookie rather than CJ Spiller or Stevie Johnson?
Why are people OK with the defense giving up 37 points and blaming the offense for this loss?
The questions...those are for the airwaves. Here is what happened.
Fitzpatrick takes the snap and has ample time to make a decision here. The circle to the top of the screen is CJ Spiller who will flash open on a short crossing route. Stevie Johnson runs a bit of a wheel up the sideline, headed for the back corner. Donald Jones and Scott Chandler both run shorter routes to the near sideline. TJ Graham (blue arrow) gets a good release off the line and makes his way toward the goalline.
Yes, CJ is open. This picture is more to show that Stevie Johnson is not. The safety at the top of the screen has that side of the field pretty well covered in this Patriots Cover 2 (that drops the MLB back into the middle as a third safety essentially). Spiller is open short. TJ Graham crosses the 5 yard line and Fitzpatrick makes the decision to make this throw.
It is at THIS moment that the ball leaves Fitzpatrick's hand. Graham is still looking downfield as he continues his route. Stevie Johnson has cleared the CB covering him but the safety to the top of the screen seems to have that back corner well covered. It's only when he starts to track the ball and move out of that spot that Johnson appears to have a shot at the back corner. The ball is on its way to Graham...but he doesn't break.
Graham goes in behind the safety...and the rest is history.
Who's to blame? Graham it would seem. Gailey as well. Ryan Fitzpatrick? Well it appears as though he did everything that was designed for him. He got the coverage and the throw he wanted.
From the endzone we can see the MLB that Fitzpatrick talked about with us on Monday morning. Watch what Fitz does here to set him up and make sure that Graham has the room to work in front of the safety.
At the snap, it's MLB Jerod Mayo that drops deep to essentially act as a third safety. His job is to cover the middle of the field and he's watching Fitzpatrick.
Let's debunk a myth here. This is Ryan Fitzpatrick before he throws the ball to TJ Graham. He's looking to his right. He does NOT lock on to TJ Graham before the throw. He does not telegraph this in a way that McCourty jumps the route. Fitzpatrick starts looking to the right...
Then looks left...holding Mayo in the middle of the field....
Then back right to make his throw. You can't see Mayo in the picture anymore but you will again. Fitzpatrick is trying to make a throw in front of the safety, but with enough room for Graham to make the catch without the ball getting batted by the deep MLB. He does this effectively.
The ball is not near Graham. Check that - Graham is not near the ball. He's supposed to be in front of the safety. The LB has been effectively held to the middle of the field. The throw MIGHT be on target. Truth be told we can't say the throw is or isn't on target. It's possible that Fitzpatrick would have thrown behind, or over top, or low if Graham was in the right spot. You can make that case if you'd like to but...the receiver isn't where he is supposed to be. Very little of this interception appears to be on Fitzpatrick in my opinion. I think he executed things fairly effectively. He can't run the route and catch the ball too.
How much is the coach to blame? Plenty I think. Stevie Johnson, in his defense of TJ Graham points out that the rookie hasn't run that route before in a game. Johnson has. Johnson gets open all the time. We can't know how the Patriots would have covered it if it's Johnson running the route but for my money - it'd have been open. Johnson is open ALL THE TIME. (I say that realizing that he wasn't on this play but the Patriots committed two players to him on a route up the sideline).
Double-moves are his specialty. He could have shaken free on this route and possibly run it correctly as well.
Then there's the other idea - Spiller.
With 5 targets heading out to be covered in a zone comprised of 8 defenders, you might want someone that can make a few miss. It's no secret that CJ Spiller can do this. He's open on this play, and at the time of the throw from Ryan Fitzpatrick it's important to note just how much room for error there is....
It's at this moment that Fitzpatrick sets his feet to throw. TJ Graham is to slice in front of the safety. It'd be a tough throw. A tough catch. A tough play to make. It's a rookie. McCourty may have stepped up and been able to break things up. CJ Spiller on the other hand, has room to run. That figure in the center of Spiller's "catch-zone" is an official.
They probably should have thrown to CJ. Maybe it should have been a different play call. Maybe a different receiver targeted. Maybe Graham should have run the right route.
The pick stinks. Blame whoever you'd like. I'm going to lay off Fitz for a week. I think he looked off the MLB and threw a strike to a spot where a receiver (running the correct route) could have made a play for a gamewinning TD.