Around the time Tyrod Taylor feathered the ball into the hands of a fairly well-covered Sammy Watkins down the left sideline midway through the first quarter of Buffalo’s 41-14 win over Miami on Sunday, it was hard not to think that this guy might not suck.
That inkling got stronger six snaps later, when he lasered a 10-yard touchdown to LeSean McCoy, his second scoring pass of the day, giving the Bills a 14-0 lead.
Hey, this Taylor character might actually be pretty good!
Be honest. When was the last time your expectations for a Buffalo quarterback were anything more than, "Well, maybe he won't be as shitty as the last one?"
Granted, the bar is pretty low around here. Most of the last 15 years have been spent hoping – usually quite wishfully – for someone remotely decent, capable of upholding the delusions fostered about the rest of the roster.
"Maybe Kyle Orton/E.J. Manuel/Ryan Fitzpatrick/Trent Edwards/J.P. Losman/Kelly Holcomb could do enough to win," the thinking went, bolstered by whatever hope the franchise was selling that year -- the awesomeness of the defense/running attack/change in coaching philosophy/Terrell Owens. Those delusions surfaced after each mediocre-or-better performance, only to be shattered within a week or two.
But this, this was a different feeling altogether.
As he had against New England a week earlier, Taylor flawlessly led Buffalo to a touchdown on its opening drive in Miami, punctuated by his 25-yard collaboration with former Dolphins tight end Charles Clay.
But where things fell apart quickly, as they do for most teams, against the Patriots, Taylor kept rolling in Miami, making what was rated as one of the National Football League’s better defenses heading into the season look like the University of Tennessee-Martin trying to keep up with Ole Miss.
The throws to Watkins and McCoy, and later to Chris Hogan for Taylor's third touchdown, all would have been singular high points for any 21st-century Buffalo quarterback, with the exception of early-2002 vintage Drew Bledsoe. On Sunday, they were just part of a highly impressive body of work.
By the time it was over, and Taylor had led Buffalo to its biggest margin of victory in Miami since the Bills’ first visit ever to South Florida, a 29-0 trouncing in 1966, you could even be excused for thinking that their long slog through the quarterback wasteland might finally be at an end. Taylor completed 21 of 29 throws for 277 yards and three scores.
Factor in 12 rushing yards on three scrambles, and Taylor posted a QBR (the fancy analytical system used by ESPN for rating quarterbacks) of 95.3 -- the NFL's highest in Week 3. For the season, Taylor ranks eighth at 74.7, despite compiling a dismal 33.6 against New England.
In case you were wondering, Orton put up a 44.3 last season, while Manuel was at 42.6 as a rookie and 30.9 before being benched in 2014, while Fitzpatrick never rated above 45.2 during his four years in Buffalo. Edwards managed a 48.0 in '08 (the highest ever by a Buffalo starter since the system was devised in 2006)b , while Losman peaked at 38.9 during his lone full season two years earlier.
Of course, Miami looked more like a team playing out the final weeks of a lost season than a popular preseason pick to challenge New England for AFC East supremacy. Joe Philbin’s jittery fourth-down decisions alone were enough to justify a firing on Monday morning, if not at halftime, moments after gifting the Bills with a shot at the Dan Carpenter field goal that made it 27-0.
Not that immaculate game management by Miami’s head-coach-for-now, or an adequate performance by Ryan Tannehill, the recipient of a remarkable amount of patience (and cash) from Dolphins management, would have made much difference. Not paired with a defense that performed as if its Gatorade buckets had been spiked with influenza.
And with the home crowd showing its disdain in creative ways before ceding control of Sun Life Stadium to their blue-and-red-clad peers after intermission, Taylor didn’t have to worry about the noise that disorients most visiting NFL quarterbacks, particularly inexperienced ones.
But a win on the road is a win on the road, particularly against a division foe in your first start away from home as a professional.
A week earlier, Taylor looked more than a little panicky during most of the first three quarters of a cosmetically close loss to the Patriots in which he absorbed eight sacks and flung three interceptions. Sunday, though, he never flinched. Nor was he dumped or picked.
He hit tough throws and easy ones, giving himself extra time with a few quick steps on the infrequent occasions Miami’s vaunted pass rush got anywhere near him. Unlike most of his predecessors, as well as the departed Matt Cassell, he put his passes where his receivers could not only catch them, but also turn upfield and accelerate.
Yes, Orton and Manuel and Fitzpatrick and Edwards and Losman and Holcomb each had moments of adequacy before getting hurt or yanked (whether on merit or by a craven coach). And Taylor could yet come undone when faced with a defense that lives up to its reputation, or a road game in a stadium full of people who actually want to be there.
But besides accuracy and mobility, Taylor has already shown qualities largely lacking in those who came before him – resiliency and adaptability.
While the Depressing Half-Dozen tended to crumble quickly after their moments of competence, Taylor came back from the New England mess with a markedly more impressive day against Miami than he had against the Colts.
With the 1-2 New York Giants coming to town for the first of six straight winnable games before the rematch with New England, the Bills find themselves better positioned at quarterback than they have been since Bledsoe's aforementioned tear in the first half of 2002.
Given the vagaries of the NFL, Taylor probably won’t look great every week during that stretch. But with a defense that didn’t surrender a point while the game was in doubt against Indianapolis or Miami, a running game that appears to be finding its rhythm (particularly when Karlos Williams has the ball), free-agent pickups Clay and Percy Harvin providing him with downfield targets while Watkins works through his latest injury, and Rex Ryan whipping everybody into a froth (within reason), he doesn’t have to be.
Given the team around him, pretty good should be good enough.
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