When the Buffalo Bills faced the New England Patriots on Oct. 2, Tyrod Taylor took a major career step by winning his first NFL game when he attempted at least 30 passes.
Taylor didn't put up staggering numbers with those 39 throws, but he was effective, working a quick-slant passing game with precision to gut the New England Patriots' defense and provide just enough offense for a 16-0 win.
It was that game, the second of the four in a row the Bills won after their 0-2 start, that might very well have provided the truest indication of the ceiling for the quarterback positioned to receive a franchise-level salary after this season as part of the conditional contract extension he signed in August.
The performance was Taylor's best during that season-changing run and arguably since he became the Bills' starter last year. And it wasn't great. It was good -- at times, very good -- but nothing he did made you think he was capable of consistently carrying the offense, or the team, on his passing game. Nothing he did thoroughly convinced you that you were seeing something dramatically different than what you saw in his first 14 career starts in 2015.
The other three games of the winning streak left many fans and observers wanting more. Much more.
They created a sense that, while the Bills were in fine shape with the running game complementing a solid defense, the team might very well be in trouble if it needed Taylor to put the load on his back.
One of those times came last Sunday in Miami, when the Bills got almost nothing from their ground attack and their defense was playing doormat to Jay Ajayi.
Taylor ran for a 10-yard score. He also threw a 67-yard touchdown strike to Marquise Goodwin. But he was not the transformative force the Bills needed from their quarterback.
Granted, he was missing his two top receivers, Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, and Goodwin would exit the game with a concussion. Yet, that doesn't let Taylor off the hook for misfiring or not seeing open receivers. It doesn't excuse him for failing to deliver the plays to close the sale after the Bills built an 11-point lead late in the third quarter.
Taylor gave a brief, but honest assessment of how things went for the Bills' offense.
"We just didn’t score enough points today," he said. "I don’t really want to sit here and make any excuses. There’s plenty of things we can do better and will do better.”
Here's what Taylor does well. He takes care of the football. He didn't throw an interception against the Dolphins. He has rarely done that this season or since becoming a starter. That matters.
Taylor's game isn't a total train wreck, unlike that of Houston's Brock Osweiler, who received an unconditional franchise-level deal to leave Denver as a free agent. That matters, too, especially considering that Taylor's available targets keep dwindling.
A lot can happen through the final nine games. Taylor falling to the depths that Osweiler showed last Monday night against the Broncos doesn't seem likely. Seeing him soar to the heights of an elite quarterback seems improbable as well.
If that holds to form for the rest of the season, will the Bills still go through with paying him $18 million per year for the next five seasons? It shouldn't be a shock if they do.
Taylor's ceiling might leave something to be desired. Right now, however, envisioning the Bills finishing with a high enough draft pick (or going into free agency or turning to the trade market) to find a quarterback with a higher one seems like the least realistic scenario of all.