When you’re a starting quarterback in the NFL, everything gets bigger. You get a greater proportion of the pressure and the blame, the glamour and the glory. Every story becomes magnified, whether it’s deflated footballs or dubious dentistry.
The celebrity website TMZ created a mild tempest early this week with a report that Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor was thinking of wearing a diamond-studded mouthpiece on the field this season.
Adisa Bakari, the agent for the Bills’ QB, called the TMZ story a “complete fabrication.” Bakari told ESPN that Taylor and his family were offended by the suggestion that Taylor had contacted Michael Wright – the so-called “dentist to the stars” – to ask about creating a bejeweled mouthpiece.
“I don’t know where that story came from,” Taylor said Wednesday during Media Day at One Bills Drive. “That was funny to me. That’s not me. I wouldn’t order a diamond mouthpiece. That’s not my style.”
Whatever the case, you might say it’s time for Taylor to put his money where his mouth is, to back up his belief – and the burgeoning confidence of his coaches, teammates and growing legion of fans – that he is ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
We’ll begin to find out on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium when Taylor finally gets a chance to start a regular-season game. He’ll get his baptism against the Indianapolis Colts, who lost the AFC title game last season. Taylor will be facing a personal duel with Andrew Luck, who is the best young quarterback in the sport and one month younger than Tyrod.
Taylor, who threw only one regular-season pass last year as Baltimore’s backup, will make his starting debut in the most anticipated Bills opener since the Super Bowl era, in Game One of the Rex Ryan era. He has become the darling of the fans, a symbol of the soaring possibilities people see in this year’s team.
Ryan, who started his press conference by calling out the fans to be a vocal defensive force Sunday, said he’s excited for his first game as Buffalo’s coach and assures us Taylor will be jacked up, too.
“Look, I expect him to be nervous,” Ryan said. “I really do. That’s the beautiful part of this game. He’s won a Super Bowl as a backup quarterback. He’s been around some great players, Hall of Fame players.
“But you know what? It’s still your first start. I think it’s going to be butterflies, excitement, nervousness. That’s part of it, and that’s expected. But you go out there and do it, kid, because he’s cool, he’s ready for this day and his teammates are ready to support him.”
Taylor said he wasn’t feeling any apprehension about his big day. He said he doesn’t get nervous before games.
“Oh, trust me, I’m definitely excited,” he said. “You’ve got to channel that anxiety into positive energy and go out and play. But I can’t look too far ahead. It’s only Wednesday and I still have a couple more important practices before then. Once the game comes, I’ll definitely be fired up.”
Taylor has the quiet confidence that comes with feeling utterly prepared. He spent four years as a caddie to Joe Flacco with the Ravens from 2011-14.
“Being under Joe Flacco for four years kind of helps,” Ryan said. “Being around the players he was around, an Ed Reed, a Ray Lewis, a Terrell Suggs, a Haloti Ngata, all those type of guys. Anquan Boldin. That can only help you. You learn from those guys about being a pro.”
During those four years as a seldom-used understudy, Taylor saw how Flacco worked at his craft. He filed the lessons away, sharpened his understanding of the game’s most vital position and told himself he would be mentally ready when his big opportunity arrived.
“I don’t think he gets enough credit for being a smart quarterback,” said running back LeSean McCoy. “He’s very intelligent. That’s the thing that a lot of fans probably don’t know. They watch him on the field, how he makes the good throws, how he’s very elusive and gets away from defenders.
“But he’s very smart,” McCoy said. “He demands respect in the huddle, puts us in the right plays, audibles out of them, makes sure everybody’s aligned the correct ways. I won’t be surprised if he has a big game. Some people might be surprised, like ‘Oh, man!,’ but I won’t. He has talent.”
That’s the bounding hope among Bills fans, that Taylor is an uncovered treasure, an undersized quarterback who will rise about his perceived limitations when given a shot – like Doug Flutie or Russell Wilson.
No town can rally behind the underdog like Buffalo fans, who believe there’s a giant inside every little guy, just waiting to be unleashed. History says it’s unlikely. Still, you never know about a player until he gets his chance, or in this case, when the games start to matter.
“I definitely think I’ve grown as a football player, as a quarterback,” Taylor said. “I know more than I did four years ago, of course. They say the best way to learn is to do it on the field. I didn’t have the opportunity, so I had to do it a different way. And I learned a lot doing that.”
We’ll find out soon enough if Taylor can translate that knowledge onto an NFL field and be a solid starter. The fans were buzzing a few weeks ago when he started a preseason game. Just imagine if he lives up to their wildest imaginings and turns out to be a diamond in the rough.