If you had any questions about the Bills’ potential this season, they were answered on two plays by two newcomers in the first half. Both enabled the Bills to get the season rolling, not to mention their 27-14 victory over the Colts in the first game under head coach Rex Ryan.
Let’s start with the first because there seemed to be more trepidation about rookie Ronald Darby starting at cornerback than Tyrod Taylor at the game's most important position. You knew Andrew Luck was going to test the kid, and the kid passed with flying colors.
Darby made a great play for his first career interception, stepping in front of Andrew Luck’s underthrown deep pass for T.Y. Hilton. Darby was actually beaten on the play, but he recovered while the ball was in the air. Darby also knocked down another attempt earlier in the game.
Once the rookie proved he was stable in man-to-man coverage, the Bills had the confidence they needed to unleash their pass rush against one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Luck looked like Aaron Rodgers did last season – dazed and confused – while trying to solve Buffalo’s swarming defense.
Taylor showed how he won the quarterback competition in training camp and confirmed why the Bills signed him in the offseason. He was managing a conservative offense while getting his feet under him before … kaboom. He dropped a perfect pass down the sideline to Percy Harvin for a 51-yard touchdown to open the scoring.
The play was everything Taylor could do – and EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel could not – long before the season opener. Manuel had problems exploiting defenses and lacked confidence to throw deep balls. In that situation, he was prone to check down. Cassel simply doesn’t have the same arm strength to drop the same deep ball.
Taylor completed 14 of his first 16 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. He ran for 45 yards, minus taking a knee in the final moments. He had a 31-yard scramble late in the second half that helped the Bills take a 17-0 lead. He picked up a blitz and found Robert Woods in the third quarter. He didn’t throw any interceptions.
Darby will be tested again by other quarterbacks. Opposing teams can better prepare for Taylor with every game he plays. Both players are guaranteed to have difficult days ahead. But at least they have a base from which to work and the faith that they can be effective players in the NFL.
Sometimes, that’s half the battle.
Taylor rode the bench for four seasons in Baltimore, waiting for an opportunity to prove he can manage an offense. He made intelligent decisions. He was accurate with his throws. He didn’t force passes. He ran when given the opportunity. He was the best player on either team Sunday.
The Bills haven’t had a quarterback with his combination of passing ability, speed and ingenuity since Doug Flutie. He was the last quarterback to lead the Bills to the playoffs. In case you lost count, it was 16 years ago.
Are the Bills a playoff team this year? That question still needs to be answered.