The Buffalo Bills had the game right where they wanted it. On the road against the Oakland Raiders, they carried a lead from the end of the first quarter, straight through to almost midway through the third.
The Bills dominated in all phases during the first 15 minutes, and then, from the second quarter straight through to the now famous 24-9 lead in the third, the rushing attack and the defense took center stage.
They were heading towards a victory — a statement win over a team that has had a magical season in the best division in the National Football League. A win that would have legitimized their hopes for a potential berth in the playoffs. A win that would have kept them firmly afloat in the race for a least one more game in January.
Everything was fine for Buffalo at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum…
…Until it wasn’t.
In what felt like the amount of time that it takes to blink, things turned ugly for the Bills — but a predictable outcome considering who they were up against, and what they were lacking even through the good times.
You see, even when the Bills were rolling as well as they were in the second quarter up to their 15-point lead, the man that plays the most important position on the team was akin to a turtle in the face of danger. Tyrod Taylor, when the game mattered most, was nowhere to be found.
You’ve likely read or heard about the post-first quarter stats which were damning on their own accord: 45 minutes, 10 completions on 26 attempts, 89 yards, and two turnovers.
Let’s take that a step further, shall we?
Once the game was well in hand in the fourth quarter for Oakland, the Raiders switched to a prevent defense which unlocked the underneath areas for passing attacks. It was in an effort to chew up time off the clock, and to prevent any scores from happening quickly — if at all.
So if you keep that in mind… in between the end of the first quarter, and the time that the Raiders blew right past the Bills to a 38-24 lead, the stats on Taylor are even more incriminating.
Are you ready? I’m not sure that you are.
Four completed passes, 15 attempts, 30 passing yards, one sack taken, one delay of game penalty, and an interception — all in 38 minutes of play. A good way to see a quarterback’s overall effectiveness is by yards per attempt, and through that stretch, the math is pretty easy:
Taylor averaged two yards per pass attempt. Over that amount of time, Taylor averaged 0.79 passing yards per minute played.
The Bills effectively hid Tyrod Taylor, as they have been doing for close to the entire season, and let their running game and defense try and lead them to a victory. They hid him until they couldn’t any longer.
The flawed defense deserves a hearty amount of blame for letting the Raiders back off the mat, but they had been playing really well the entire game up to that point. As soon as adversity hit in the form of the defense starting to allow the talented Oakland passing attack to get going, Taylor had no answers.
And this isn’t a new phenomenon for Bills fans, either. We’ve seen it for 26 games now:
He’s too quick to leave the pocket, he doesn’t see the whole field, he’s developed inaccuracy in the crucial moments of the game — and worst of all, if the Bills need their quarterback to drive them down the field and win a game against a good team, he hasn’t.
The worst of Tyrod Taylor was on display, and it’s a shame because it’s what followed perhaps the best quarter of football he’s played as the team’s starter. There aren’t many like this, but some are incredulous as to how the defense is escaping the focal point of the blame.
The defense played horribly down the stretch, but they could have certainly been helped by Taylor and the offense to not have to trot themselves out there after only four plays or less resting on the sidelines.
The reason this loss focuses on Taylor is because it all evolves into a larger point:
If you’re an NFL team that has to try and win games with everyone else playing a huge role besides the starting quarterback, you’re almost assuredly doing it wrong in the NFL.
That brand of football has been defined by two teams in particular: Seattle when Russell Wilson hadn’t quite evolved into the player that he is now, and Denver of last season with a Peyton Manning by name only starting at quarterback. Both had all-world defenses, both had great running games, both won the Super Bowl.
What everyone fails to realize is that both of those quarterbacks had to deliver in clutch moments during their regular season and playoff runs against good-to-great teams. They still played a big part in big moments for their team.
To date, in terms of fourth quarter comebacks, Taylor has a win over a rebuilding Tennessee team in 2015, a victory over a 2-10 Jacksonville squad this season, and that’s it.
The book has been out on Tyrod Taylor throughout the NFL since the beginning of the season. You heard similar refrains from multiple teams — something along the lines of, “We just had to make him be a quarterback.”
Therein lies the problem.
The Bills had to have a top five rushing attack, and a top five-to-ten defense just to even think about getting in the playoffs with Taylor as their quarterback — and that’s only the playoffs! With him at the helm, no matter how optimistic a fan you are, you’d have to think that few would actually believe Taylor could lead them to a Super Bowl victory.
The Bills now face an approximately $27 million dollar decision: Do they go with what they know and can control in Tyrod Taylor and hope the rest of the team picks up the slack for him? Or, do they move on and hit the restart button at the position in hopes for one day landing a greater player?
If it’s me, as of right now, I would be moving on from Taylor.
He is consistently one of the worst graded players each and every week that I go back and review the film — an outright unsustainable brand of football in today’s NFL for teams with championship aspirations.
The Bills need to keep taking swings at quarterback. They took a swing with EJ Manuel and whiffed, they took a swing with Tyrod Taylor and hit a legged-out double… and perhaps Cardale Jones is on deck one day.
Even if he is, just because you failed in your last two attempts doesn’t mean you should stop trying altogether -- and worse, to accept the fate of status quo. Dare to be great, otherwise nothing is ever going to change around this organization.
It’s not completely over for Taylor just yet, either. The playoffs are a pipe dream at this point, needing much to go their way and a sweep to end the season — but a flickering light of hope still exists, no matter how fleeting it feels.
Taylor has four games to prove to the fans — and more importantly, the Bills — that he deserves to be the starting quarterback in 2017. And based on the decision from those outcomes, these could be the most important four weeks of both the immediate future of the Bills, and Taylor’s career.
If he’s the same player we’ve come to know over 26 games over the final stretch of the season, the decision won't be, but should be easy for the Bills:
Move on, and keep searching for the one.
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