Forget the backup quarterback. In Buffalo, the third-stringer might be the most popular guy in town.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick off to a maddeningly inconsistent start, Bills fans have longed for a look at what Tarvaris Jackson can do.
Jackson, though, doesn’t appear to be any closer to playing than he was Aug. 27, the day he was acquired from Seattle.
“I really didn’t know the situation, honestly. It was all of a sudden — ‘you’ve been traded.’ I really wasn’t told anything as far as if I’d be playing, I was just told they wanted me here,” Jackson said this week. “That’s all you really can ask for, and just try to learn the offense as soon as possible and see how things play out.”
Jackson joined the Bills three days before their final preseason game. He threw one pass in the game — it was intercepted — and that remains his only appearance in a Buffalo uniform.
“It’s a lot different. I had never been traded before. Ever since my rookie year I’ve been in an offense I know, pretty much the same offense,” Jackson said. “Coming over here so late, never really got a chance to go through the teaching period and camp, or any of the offseason stuff.”
Things haven’t been any easier in the regular season. An NFL team gives almost all its practice reps to the starting quarterback, with the backup taking a few. The third-stringer is relegated to “scout team” duty, running the plays of Buffalo’s upcoming opponent.
“ trying to get caught up with stuff, but it’s kind of just game planning right now. I missed a lot of the teaching. So it’s kind of difficult for me to actually feel comfortable with everything,” Jackson said. “I know the plays, but it’s a difference between knowing the plays and actually going out there and getting a chance to practice them. We’re trying to get ready for games, so that’s difficult as far as getting a third guy reps. That’s not going to happen. You just try to do the best you can do with the scout team reps and just learn as much as possible like that.”
Jackson said it’s human nature to be disappointed in the situation, but that he’s fighting through it.
“You feel like you’re not really involved and you get down, but I know that at any time things can change. I just try to do the best I can and stay ready,” he said.
Jackson, 29, has a 17-17 career record as a starter in seven seasons. He’s 625 of 1,053 (59.4 completion percentage) for 7,075 yards, 38 touchdowns, 35 interceptions and a passer rating of 77.7.
Conversely, Fitzpatrick, 29, is 21-37-1 in 59 career starts. He’s 1,165 of 1,962 for an identical 59.4 completion percentage, 83 TDs, 74 interceptions and a passer rating of 76.2.
Fitzpatrick has had his good moments this season — most recently the first three quarters against Tennessee — but has struggled with turnovers. In Buffalo’s four losses, he’s thrown all nine of his interceptions, driving fans batty with his decision-making.
The only way things will change at quarterback this season is if there is an injury. For better or worse, Gailey is married to Fitzpatrick as his starting quarterback, and the Bills’ coach explained to the team’s official website late last month why a change on the depth chart between Jackson and Tyler Thigpen is unlikely.
“It would be very tough for Tarvaris to challenge for that spot this year because of limited reps,” Gailey told buffalobills.com. “... It’s hard for him to get the reps necessary to make a viable charge at this point for that position.
“We knew it would be a challenge. We knew that when we made the move, but we were hoping that we would be able to keep him around and keep him learning and eventually by osmosis pick up enough to help us if something were to happen later in the season.”
The Bills traded a seventh-round draft pick to Seattle for Jackson, but that can become a sixth-rounder if Jackson is active for six games. With just nine games left, that’s looking unlikely.
“I wouldn’t say frustrated, but it’s a little different for me,” Jackson said. “I’ve been a backup before, but never solely a scout-team guy. I’m just trying to make the best of it pretty much, keep a positive attitude about the situation and just come out here and try to work and do what I can.”
At least he’s being handsomely rewarded. Jackson is making a $1.75 million base salary, which is expensive for a third-stringer — and about $500,000 more than the Bills would have paid Vince Young, whom they released the same day Jackson was acquired.