In the early stages of the 2015 season, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins never really made the impact many believed that he could. The former fourth-overall selection -- a player the Bills traded an additional first-round pick to go get in 2014 -- was frustrated that he wasn't making a bigger impact, and in turn, the fans had grown quite frustrated as well.
All the ability was there, but for whatever reason, Watkins was being massively underused.
The first week of the season, Watkins was held without a catch against Indianapolis. Watkins was injured during Week Three against Miami, and that turned out to be the only three games he played with quarterback Tyrod Taylor early on. In those games, he totaled seven receptions for 99 yards -- an average of just over three catches per game, and 33 yards per game.
Once the Bills got back from their bye week, Watkins had a huge impact on games and the massive potential everyone knew he had finally started to become unearthed. Over the last nine games, Watkins had 49 receptions for 900 yards and seven touchdowns.
So how did it all come together for Watkins and Taylor?
As it turns out, being injured and unable to play out in London was what turned it all around for that duo. Appearing on WGR Sports Radio 550 Friday morning, Taylor detailed the time out in Europe that they finally found that connection that had evaded them through the first three games.
Watkins was re-injured in the team's loss to Cincinnati the previous week, and Taylor was still nursing a knee injury that he suffered two weeks prior in Tennessee. Knowing that they weren't going to play in London, and without all the distractions that home life may bring, Taylor and Watkins opened up the line of communication.
"We spent some time talking a lot in London. We were actually getting treatment at the same time, so we actually spent a lot of time talking and getting on the same page," Taylor told WGR. "When it was time to come back on the field for both of us, we would talk through a lot of things. I remember coming off the bye week and actually throwing some with him and just trying to get on the same page, and understanding that he’s one of the top receivers in this league and I have to get him the ball."
There was a definitive switch in philosophy from Taylor, who seemed like his first responsibility was to avoid making a costly mistake early on. Then once the Bills came back from the bye week, and both players were healthy, they turned those conversations into results.
Taylor gave Watkins multiple chances to both make plays, and take over a game. How did Watkins respond?
The biggest game of his career, that's how.
Watkins and Taylor connected eight times for 168 yards and a touchdown during the 33-17 win over Miami. The quarterback found himself throwing into double coverage that game, and for the rest of the season as well -- which again, was a dramatic shift in his decision making from early in the season.
"It’s a trust factor, and that’s something that we built," Taylor said. "If your best guy is one on one with the safety, or one on one with the corner, and the safety’s coming but he’s not necessarily in the picture, then you feel like he’s open. Like he told me: 'Give me a chance. I could either catch it, or knock it down.’ We’ll take those chances."
So, even if the Bills suffered a devastating defeat in London to the Jacksonville Jaguars, without it, Watkins may not have been on the cusp of becoming one of the NFL's breakout stars for the 2016 season. A short-term loss for long-term gains, if you will.
"I like what we have going on, and we’re going to continue to keep building," Taylor said.
If they do, the ultra-talented Watkins might just find himself in the upper echelon of wide receivers in the league when it's all said and done this season.