Bills shut down Redskins at Rogers Centre
Ryan Fitzpatrick and his Buffalo teammates learned Sunday how to turn Toronto's NFL fans into Bills supporters.
Give them plenty to cheer about.
Fitzpatrick threw two TD strikes to Scott Chandler as Buffalo (5-2) dominated the Washington Redskins 23-0 for its first regular-season win of the Bills Toronto Series.
Sunday's contest was the sixth of eight Buffalo will play here through next season. The resurgent Bills (5-2) — who've missed the NFL playoffs since 1999 — improved to 3-3 in Toronto but are just 1-3 in regular-season contests.
The attendance was 51,579, meaning none of the games have been a sellout at Rogers Centre, which seats 54,000 for football. Once again, the contest again lacked the atmosphere and buzz of a traditional Bills home game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
But for the first time in the series fans were loudly pro Bills and actually gave them a feeling of home-field advantage. While again a myriad of NFL jerseys coloured the crowd, many spectators vocally supported Buffalo (4-0 at home this season) when its players came the field to start the contest, then booed the Redskins when they arrived.
Buffalo dominated the contest as the offence moved smartly under Fitzpatrick, who overcame a lost fumble and interception in the end zone. The defence sacked Washington starter John Beck nine times — the second-highest total in club history had two interceptions and a blocked field goal in its first shutout since 2006.
"That was one of the things coming in, give them something to cheer about," Fitzpatrick said. "I thought they did that today.
"I think there was more excitement today than there has been in years past."
Wilson critical of playing in Toronto
Safety George Wilson was critical of playing in Toronto last week but was appreciative of the crowd Sunday.
"The fans were really excited and got into the game," he said. "It was just good to have an exciting environment out here today."
Bills head coach Chan Gailey agreed, sort of. He said crowd noise was why Buffalo was flagged for a false start on third-and-one in the fourth quarter.
"I have to teach them when it's third-and-one not to do the wave," he said with a chuckle. "If we can learn that, that would help us but they were great.
"The crowd was really into it. It helped us … they [Washington] had to call timeout because of the noise. It was good."
Especially considering Gailey was very concerned with Buffalo coming off a bye week.
"Scared to death because it's not something that's normal, you're not in your routine," he said. "You don't know if your guys are back into it or not.
"We had a couple of guys late for meetings because they were not back into the routine. It makes you nervous as a coach."
The win moved the Bills into a tie with New England atop the AFC East. The Patriots dropped to 5-2 after a 25-17 loss to Pittsburgh.
Fitzpatrick worth the money
Fitzpatrick also showed he was well worth the six-year, $59-million US contract extension he signed last week. Fitzpatrick was 21-of-27 passing for 262 yards as Buffalo more than doubled Washington's offensive production (391 total yards to 174).
Heady stuff, considering Fitzpatrick played collegiately at Harvard and was St. Louis's seventh-round pick in '05 and spent two years with the Rams and Cincinnati, respectively, before landing in Buffalo in 2009. Fitzpatrick, 28, has flourished with the Bills, going 9-5 in his last 14 games.
Chandler has six TD catches, tying him for the most in a season by a tight end in club history. Fred Jackson ran for 120 yards for his fifth 100-yard rushing effort this year and added three catches for 74 yards while Rian Lindell had a convert and three field goals.
The first-ever trip to Canada for the injury-plagued Redskins (3-4) was one to forget. They suffered their third-straight loss and were shut out for the first time since dropping a 17-0 decision to Dallas on Dec. 27, 2009.
Head coach Mike Shanahan was shut out for the first time in 267 career games.
Washington was minus running back Tim Hightower (knee), receiver Santana Moss (hand) and tight end Chris Cooley (knee). Safety O.J. Atogwe of Windsor, Ont., the lone Canadian in the game, played after missing Washington's previous contest against Carolina with a knee injury.
Washington's frustration showed following Chandler's second TD when linebacker London Fletcher and defensive back DeAngelo Hall got into it verbally on the sidelines.
"Every once in a while it happens in the emotions of a football game," Shanahan said. "We couldn't get anything going, the running game or the passing game.
"And when we did seem to get a little flow, we got some sacks and couldn't keep it going. I'm very disappointed with the result and especially with the way we played offensively."
Beck was 20-of-33 passing for 208 yards but Ryan Torain was the club's leading rusher with 14 yards on eight carries.
The series was unveiled in 2008 amid much fanfare as event organizers wanted to prove Toronto was a viable NFL city. Rogers Communications Inc. paid US$78 million for the contests expecting southern Ontario fans to flock to Rogers Centre whatever the cost.
But a slow economy, high-priced tickets — initially averaging over $180 each, compared to roughly $51 at Ralph Wilson Stadium — and struggling Bills teams have made it a tough sell.
Event organizers have cut some ticket prices to make games more affordable, but that's not resulted in a sellout yet.
Scalpers are also having to work hard for their money. On Sunday, there were those willing to unload their tickets under face value to make a sale.
The series has given the Bills a huge financial boost. They're receiving more than double what they'd make if the games were in Orchard Park. N.Y., while being allowed to establish a foothold in Canada's biggest market.
Still, event organizers have struggled trying to recreate the NFL experience here. A huge attraction for many American football fans is being able to arrive at the stadium hours before kickoff, set up the barbecue to cook a variety of foods while throwing a football around in the parking lot or breaking down the upcoming game with friends over a cold beer.
But provincial laws make that impossible here. A live band played outside Rogers Centre on Sunday and there was a mechanical bull ride available, it wasn't nowhere near the same.
And then there was the security. Fans were searched and their bags checked before entering the stadium.
Despite brilliant sunshine outside, the roof was again closed. There were no corporate logos on the turf -- just the Bills crest at centre field and their team name in both end zones. What especially stood out were the 10-yard end zones on a 100-yard long NFL field compared to the 20-yard end zones and the 110-yard field in Canadian football.
So too was the Jumbotron running during plays, allowing fans to watch the on-field action. That never happens during Toronto Argonauts contests.
Large banners covered the hotel windows overlooking the field, preventing guests to watch from their rooms like they could during Argos games.