In announcing that Trent Edwards will miss his second consecutive game since suffering a concussion, Bills coach Dick Jauron opened the door for a midseason quarterback shuffle by refusing to commit to who will start once Edwards is healthy enough to play.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Jauron said Monday, one day after Fitzpatrick helped lead the Bills (3-4) to a 20-9 victory at Carolina. It was Buffalo's second consecutive victory and the second in a row for Fitzpatrick since he took over after Edwards was hurt during the second quarter of a 16-13 overtime win over the New York Jets the previous week.
The Bills host the Houston Texans on Sunday, then have their bye, which will either provide Edwards an additional week of rest or allow Fitzpatrick extra time to become more accustomed to the offense.
In another sign that Fitzpatrick might have gained the edge with the coach, Jauron forgot to even mention Edwards when reviewing his list of injured players.
"I'm trying to think if there are any more," Jauron said before a reporter reminded him about Edwards.
It was at that point Jauron ruled out Edwards from playing. Jauron added that Edwards has been cleared to work out this week, but the coach noted the team is taking a "conservative approach" in dealing with a player who sustained his second concussion in a little over a year.
Edwards has struggled, going 3-9 in the last 12 games he has taken a majority of snaps. Fitzpatrick, signed by the Bills as a free agent this offseason, has won five in a row, including going 3-0 to close last season with the Cincinnati Bengals while filling in for injured starter Carson Palmer.
Fitzpatrick hasn't exactly produced eye-popping numbers in going 21-of-47 passing for 239 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in place of Edwards. But the fifth-year pro is being credited for being efficient by protecting the ball, for taking shots down field and producing scoring drives by taking advantage of a turnover-happy defense.
That's a switch from Edwards, who had difficulty getting wide receivers Terrell Owens and Lee Evans involved and also produced more interceptions (six) than touchdown drives (five) this season.
"The key thing in that game for us was that we protected the football," Jauron said. "I thought Ryan handled the game well. I thought he put us into things we needed to be. They weren't always successful, but he got us in them."
Fitzpatrick finished 11 of 22 for 123 yards and one touchdown, when he threaded a 2-yard pass to Evans early in the fourth quarter. Another key play came on the following drive when Fitzpatrick hit Evans for a 50-yard pass that eventually set up Rian Lindell's 29-yard field goal to put the Bills ahead 17-2.
All four of Buffalo's scoring drives were set up by turnovers, including both touchdowns, which came after interceptions by rookie safety Jairus Byrd. A second-round draft pick out of Oregon, Byrd has five interceptions this season to rank second in the NFL, one behind Saints veteran Darren Sharper.
The Bills are accustomed to midseason quarterback shuffles. That's how Edwards got the job as a rookie in 2007, when he replaced J.P. Losman.
Jauron, coming off three consecutive 7-9 finishes with Buffalo, isn't afraid to make changes. In the two weeks leading up to the start of the season, Jauron fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert and cut starting left tackle Langston Walker.
Notes: Jauron said starting DT Kyle Williams (knee) and FB Corey McIntyre (ankle) are having more tests to determine the severity of their injuries after both were hurt against the Panthers. ... Starting safeties Donte Whitner and Bryan Scott have a chance to play this week after missing Sunday's game with ankle injuries.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press