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Tyrod's Tear

Tyrod's Tear
Newest Bills QB Breaking Painfully Familiar Pattern

When Tyrod Taylor arced a perfect 53-yard throw to Sammy Watkins for the second time during last Sunday’s season-sustaining 30-21 win over Houston, a few questions came to mind:

1) Who was the last Buffalo quarterback to throw a better deep ball, or even one nearly as pretty on a consistent basis?

2) How nice is it to have questions about a Bills quarterback that do not amount to some variation on “How much does he suck?” or “When will the sucking start?”?

3) Is there really any good reason—beyond the utter futility at the position for lo these past 16 years and the pessimism it naturally engenders—to doubt whether Taylor is, if not a future superstar, a perfectly functional centerpiece to build around?

Let’s address those in order:

1) We’ll start by crossing every Bills thrower since Drew Bledsoe off the list. J.P. Losman had the strongest arm of anyone in the interim, but was as likely to fling the ball to an assistant coach as get it within 10 yards of a receiver.

Bledsoe could certainly chuck it, but did more of his damage on intermediate throws, with true bombs coming much less frequently, as compared to his total attempts. And most of his truly memorable performances came in the first eight games of 2002, the first of his three years in Buffalo.

Before that, you have the standard by which all Bills quarterbacks will be measured forevermore, Jim Kelly. For all his arm strength and gunslinger bravura, though, Kelly was hardly a mad bomber, with more of his big plays coming via the catch-and-run route with Andre Reed than deep strikes to Don Beebe or James Lofton.

What makes Taylor so effective is his ability to at once stretch a defense deep and force it to constantly account for his running ability up front. Bledsoe, by comparison, was a statue and Kelly, while slightly more mobile, forced approximately zero opposing defensive coordinators to worry about his speed or elusiveness.

None of this should be taken as a suggestion that Taylor is anywhere near as good as Kelly now, or will be over the long haul. Or even in the same class as Bledsoe, early 2002 edition, although maintaining his current level of play (and health) over this year’s final four regular season games would make that a reasonable conversation to have. But in his first season as a starter, Taylor has shown a blend of arm strength, accuracy and athleticism unseen around here since, well, ever?

2) It’s very nice. One reason I took a few seasons off from writing about the Bills, beginning in the late aughts, was the inability to conceive of finding new and different ways to describe either the ineptitude of the latest Buffalo quarterback or the signs of his inevitable demise, and finally, the unwillingness to even try.

When I got back into it in 2012, at least Ryan Fitzpatrick offered a different flavor of insufficiency. That, however, got pretty old pretty quick, too.

Instead, the talk about Taylor in the wake of his three-touchdown-pass, one-scoring-run, zero-times-body-slammed-by-J.J. Watt performance against the Texans centered on his deep strikes to Watkins, his franchise-record string of 187 straight passes without an interception, which dates to the loss to the New York Giants on October 4, and his sideline-avoidant 8-yard scoring run in the second quarter.

3) Other than perfectly understandable Losmanesque and Manuelian flashbacks, no.

There has been nothing fluky about Taylor’s performance. Instead of starting solidly and regressing, like so many before him, he has steadily improved as the season has progressed, particularly since returning after missing two games with a knee injury in October.

After back-to-back weeks with three touchdown passes, he has 17 on the season, with just four interceptions. And three of those came in Week 2 against New England. He ranks fourth in both the NFL’s passer-rating category and ESPN’s Total QBR, which grade quarterbacks using significantly different metrics. For a guy who threw all of 35 passes in his first four professional seasons, that borders on amazing.

A good friend of this column and its predecessors in various publications loved to rework the line by The Police, “Every girl I go out with becomes my mother in the end,” as “Every Bills quarterback becomes Rob Johnson in the end.”

That’s been true throughout the playoff drought. Bledsoe tore the league apart for half a season, then steadily devolved to the point that releasing him after the 2004 season, during which he led Buffalo as close to the playoffs as it has been this century, in favor of a thoroughly untested Losman seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Losman, Trent Edwards, Fitzpatrick and Manuel eras are still too annoying to rehash here, but they all followed the same spiral from early hope to utter resignation, with varying amounts of success in between.

I have written something positive about every Bills quarterback since Kelly, and they have usually responded by immediately, and successfully, proving me wrong. Still, while not predicting the month-long winning streak that would be required to lead his team out of its playoff exile, I will say this much:

Wherever Taylor goes from here, he has not shown any reason to believe he will become Rob Johnson in the end.

The author has written about the Buffalo Bills, among other topics, since 1990, and publishes We Want Marangi at You can also follow him on the Twitter at @DavidStaba.

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