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Bucky Gleason's Hot Read: Questions remain unanswered in Bills' victory

The Bills have six weeks to decide whether they want to keep the quarterback, but the issue runs deeper than Tyrod Taylor. He has been tethered to coach Rex Ryan since Taylor was named the starter last season. Ryan has made it clear inside the organization and beyond that Taylor is his guy.

If that’s true, and you never know with Rex, it could also mean that Taylor’s five-year contract extension worth $90 million affects the final three years and $16.5 million remaining in Ryan’s deal. While their situations are different, their futures are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Keeping Ryan almost certainly means keeping Taylor and vice versa. Rex has invested two years in Taylor. Last season, he selected him over former first-round pick EJ Manuel and has never wavered from that decision. Ryan has gone out of his way to gush over Taylor while minimizing his shortcomings.

On the flip side, there’s virtually no chance the Bills will keep Taylor and send Ryan on his way. If they fired Ryan after missing the playoffs yet again, his replacement would want a quarterback of his choosing. Buffalo isn’t handing $27 million to Taylor next season for a maybe. To keep him, they must see a franchise QB.

So here we are, after the Bills’ 16-12 victory over the Bengals, no more certain about how things will shake out than we were in August.

Two weeks into the season, Ryan appeared destined for the curb. After a four-game winning streak, his future was secure. After losing three straight losses, the pressure began mounting again. Now, at 5-5 with the win over Cincy and Jacksonville visiting next week, Buffalo is clinging to hope.

The Bills are left mired in mediocrity, for the better part of 16 years, not good enough for the playoffs or poor enough to secure a franchise-changing player in the draft. They are a painfully average team in a painfully average league, spinning in circles in a dizzying process with no end in sight.

Buffalo’s season was much like its game Sunday against Cincinnati, a mosaic decorated with brush strokes of brilliance and littered with unsightliness just the same. You take a step back, examine the picture from various angles and say …

Huh?

The Bills’ defense made the difference Sunday, particularly in the second half. The Bengals would argue that Mike Nugent’s two missed extra points made an impact, too, because it forced the need for a touchdown over a field goal late. Whatever the case, the Bills won a game for the first time since Oct. 16.

When you’re not nodding your head in approval, you’re shaking your head in disgust. The same has come to define Taylor, too. He puts people on the edge of their seats with extraordinary plays sprinkled into ordinary performances overall.

Taylor deserves credit for his performance while shorthanded Sunday. He was without Robert Woods and LeSean McCoy for most of the game. He extended plays and gained yardage with his legs. He managed the offense. He also made a boneheaded decision on one interception. He nearly had a fatal pick-six in the fourth quarter.

He completed 19 of 27 passes for 166 yards and rushed for 39 yards, Taylor-like numbers that have become all too familiar. He also failed to make a play when it was needed most, taking a sack on third-and-4 from the 50-yard line in the fourth quarter.

It doesn’t add up to five years and $90 million, but then you look around and wonder if there’s a better alternative that does.

The Bills have been waiting all season for Taylor’s evolution to intersect with their evaluation, creating a point in which both sides are satisfied. They entered the season essentially hoping for a same conclusion. The Bills were banking on the belief they would have an easy decision one way or another.

It’s rarely easy with this team.

The Bills’ first drive looked easy, however, which has become the norm. They marched down the field on their opening possession before McCoy waltzed into the end zone to give them a 7-0 lead. The early advantage was yet another reason for them to apply pressure on Dalton, who has been susceptible to getting sacked.

Buffalo entered the game leading the NFL in sacks and was playing a quarterback who had been sacked once every eight attempts. The Bills’ greatest weakness, however, has been defending the deep passes. One threat was removed on the third play of the game when A.J. Green was carted off with a hamstring injury.

Green is the Bengals’ best receiver and routinely draws double-coverage. His injury allowed the Bills to shift their attention toward tight end Tyler Eifert. Instead, the Bills reverted to taking dumb penalties (see: Hughes, Jerry) and backing themselves into their own territory for Dalton to dive for a 2-yard score.

Taylor was particularly efficient in the loss to Seattle because Woods played so well. Woods is their best healthy receiver before his knee crumbled under him on the Bills’ second possession. Taylor was fortunate his pass to Woods wasn’t intercepted, a sign he would become even more leery about throwing over the middle.

McCoy injured his thumb late in the second quarter and did not return, further depleting the Bills’ options on offense.

It made for a defensive struggle between two mediocre teams with two mediocre quarterbacks who were compromised by second-rate talent around them. The good news for the NFL was that the game was available to only 5 percent of the U.S. television market, including the Buffalo and Cincinnati regions.

The Bills didn't care one way or the other.

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