TORONTO - Look at it this way Buffalo: Maybe Toronto isn’t such a complete waste of time as a football neighbour, after all.
Maybe the $78-million Rogers Communications is paying to borrow your team (and help ensure its survival) one Sunday a season for five years, helped bankroll that big contract Ryan Fitzpatrick signed this past week.
Maybe a slice of it will go to big rookie lineman, Marcell Dareus, when it comes time to pay him like an elite NFL defender.
And maybe running back Fred Jackson will be in line for his share of the Canadian coin one day after another big-shouldered afternoon allowed the once unheralded Bill to carry his team’s offence past an opponent offering minimal resistance.
All three and more were big factors in the Bills’ dominant 23-0 win over the woeful Washington Redskins on Sunday at a Rogers Centre that felt, if not like Ralph Wilson Stadium, for the first time at least resembled a home away from home.
In their fourth regular-season game here, the Bills ventured into their expanded “market” as a team worth watching and left the city with their first international win, a 5-2 record and a share of the lead in the AFC East.
“Any time we get our defence playing the way they did today, we’re going to be a hard team to beat,” said Jackson, whose 120 yards rushing and 74 receiving more than carried the day. “We could have won with a field goal with the way they played. A shutout is never easy in this league.”
A shutout may have been the last thing you would have expected from this Bills defensive unit, which had given up more than 400 yards net offence in five games this season, but stuffed the ’Skins to 178.
To get to their four previous wins, the Bills had to rely on a sharp Fitzpatrick and scoring bushels of points from turnovers. A team that had just four sacks on the season had nine in one game leaving Washington quarterback John Beck a battered man.
As much as the defence was dominant — there were a pair of interceptions, as well — we’ll wait until the Bills stop a legitimate NFL offence before heralding them as a shutdown threat. But if they gain confidence from this effort, they may no longer be a liability.
It was Fitzpatrick who came into this game having the most to prove. His six-year deal took away the uncomfortable feeling of unfinished business, but it also came with pressure, especially after two fourth-quarter interceptions against the Giants in their previous game cost them a chance at a win.
Fitzpatrick came out sharp enough — more efficient than spectacular — in completing 21 of 27 attempts for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But if there was a play that cemented his reputation as a leader, it was the punishment he took late in the second quarter.
Left alone in the backfield, he completed a pass to Jackson just before getting clocked by former Bill London Fletcher. Fitzpatrick was clearly dazed, but instead of spending the rest of the half on the bench, reported back to the huddle.
“He took it and got back up and kept going,” receiver David Nelson said. “A lot of times, you see guys who are established at this point, making that money they kind of sit out and collect their money. Not going to say any names, but (Fitzpatrick) is a fighter.
“No matter how much money he’s making, no matter what his statistics are, this guy is going to ride it to the end.”
The statistics are starting to look better by the week, especially after the New England Patriots fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers in another late game to give the Bills a share of the division lead.
Fitzpatrick got things started on a clinical 80-yard touchdown drive on their second possession of the game. It was capped by a well-executed 20-yard pass to tight end Scott Chandler, his first of two touchdown catches on the day.
“That was one of the things coming in: Give ’em something to cheer about early,” Fitzpatrick said.
In between, the defence had its fun, bringing all kinds of heat on Beck — a quarterback who was once a backup to failed Argos pivot Cleo Lemon in Miami, for crying out loud — in what turned out to little more than a scrimmage by the second half.
In his days as a backup, Fitzpatrick may have been in that class of quarterback, too. His contract says otherwise now and as the leader of a 5-2 team, so does his game.