Tay­lor’s passer rat­ing plum­mets when Bills trail

The Buffalo News - - NFL SUN­DAY -

been an­swered. We’ll do the fran­chise QB dance one more time, while Beane and McDermott build for the fu­ture while wait­ing for a le­git­i­mate cor­ner­stone to ar­rive.

Again, does Tay­lor have what it takes to lift his team on the road, to rise up in dif­fi­cult times like the elite quar­ter­backs? There are times when a fran­chise QB has to be the best player on the field, the dif­fer­ence be­tween win­ning and los­ing in a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment, the de­fi­ant gun­slinger.

There’s been lit­tle ev­i­dence of that in Tay­lor’s two sea­sons as a starter. In al­most ev­ery sig­nif­i­cant mea­sure – beat­ing good teams, out­play­ing top quar­ter­backs, lead­ing the Bills from be­hind late in games, mak­ing re­peated big throws in ob­vi­ous pass­ing sit­u­a­tions – he has been a fail­ure.

Tay­lor doesn’t have a sig­nif­i­cant road win, aside from a 16-0 win at New Eng­land last sea­son when Tom Brady didn’t play. That was his only win, home or road, against a team that fin­ished with a win­ning record a year ago. The other six vic­to­ries came against teams that fin­ished a com­bined 24-71-1.

Last year, the Bills av­er­aged 30.8 points a game at home, which was third in the NFL. They scored 19.1 away from New Era Field. Their home­road scor­ing dif­fer­en­tial of mi­nus 11.7 was the sec­ond-worst in the league.

Wha­ley said he wanted to see more fourth-quar­ter come­backs out of Tay­lor. He has one such win on the road in his ca­reer. He pulled out a win against a bad Ten­nessee team two years ago af­ter a dread­ful pass­ing day that had the Bills score­less un­til the fi­nal two min­utes of the third quar­ter.

The Bills are 1-10 in games when Tay­lor is asked to pass the foot­ball at least 30 times. In two years, he has beaten one quar­ter­back who fin­ished the year rated in the top half of the league. That was Andy Dalton, who ranked 15th last sea­son and headed into his cur­rent pre­cip­i­tous de­cline.

Even in vic­to­ries, Tay­lor of­ten wasn’t lift­ing his team, but rid­ing the wave of a strong run­ning game. Dur­ing last year’s early four-game win­ning streak, they led for at least the last 40 min­utes of ev­ery game. In wins at the Rams and Ben­gals, Tay­lor’s sec­ond-half woes kept the op­po­nent in the game.

In all games when the Bills trailed in 2016, Tay­lor’s passer rat­ing was 67.2, rank­ing him 30th among qual­i­fy­ing quar­ter­backs. He threw only five TD passes on the road last sea­son, one when the Bills trailed. He played a strong game on Mon­day night in Seat­tle, but couldn’t close the deal.

To­day could be a sig­nif­i­cant step for Tay­lor. A win on the road against Cam New­ton would be the big­gest of his NFL ca­reer and re­sus­ci­tate, if only briefly, his pos­si­bil­i­ties as a po­ten­tial fran­chise quar­ter­back.

New­ton re­gressed last sea­son. He’s com­ing off shoul­der surgery and there’s a feel­ing that the Pan­thers are vul­ner­a­ble. But he’s far su­pe­rior to Tay­lor as a passer. Two years ago, while lead­ing Carolina to the Su­per Bowl, New­ton threw for 300-plus yards and five TDs in con­sec­u­tive games on the road.

Tay­lor hasn’t come close to that sort of dynamic road per­for­mance. His coaches are still try­ing to make him into a pocket passer. Greg Ro­man was go­ing to get him to throw more over the mid­dle be­fore he got fired af­ter two games last sea­son. His suc­ces­sor, An­thony Lynn, later said he hadn’t had enough prac­tice time to teach Tay­lor how to throw be­tween the hashes.

This year, Rick Den­ni­son is ask­ing Tay­lor to make three-step drops and throw from the pocket. But when Tay­lor strug­gled and had sev­eral passes bat­ted down at the line of scrim­mage, Den­ni­son ac­ceded to Tay­lor’s re­quest to throw more on the move. That’s when Ty­rod is most ef­fec­tive. He’s in his sev­enth year in the NFL, but op­pos­ing coaches still talk about stop­ping the Bills by “mak­ing him be a quar­ter­back.”

Mean­while, the Pan­thers want New­ton to run less to pre­serve his health and en­sure a long, pro­duc­tive ca­reer. Tay­lor is a rick­ety bridge to the Bills’ next real fran­chise quar­ter­back. It’s hard to imag­ine him back in Buf­falo next sea­son if they take a QB high in the draft, as is widely ex­pected.

Tay­lor rep­re­sents their best chance to win, at least in the short term. But if his road play doesn’t im­prove dra­mat­i­cally – if the of­fense strug­gles to­day and in early Oc­to­ber road games at Atlanta and Cincin­nati – we could see rookie Nathan Peter­man take over as the starter.

No quar­ter­back has been the Bills’ starter for three full sea­sons since Drew Bled­soe from 2002-04. Beane and McDermott have prob­a­bly made up their minds by now. The ques­tion isn’t whether Tay­lor is their fran­chise quar­ter­back, but how long it will take them to pub­licly con­cede that he is not.

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