Sorry to spoil anyone’s holiday, but I failed to mention after Monday’s loss that this makes 15 consecutive years when the Bills haven’t been over the .500 mark 10 games into the season. Yes, they haven’t won six of their first 10 since late in the Clinton administration.
That’s quite a trail of mediocrity, a lot of heroic marches to nowhere. In 11 of the last 15 seasons, the Bills have been 4-6 or 5-5. It has become a fond Buffalo tradition, like running the Turkey Trot or meeting your high school chums at the bars on the night before Thanksgiving.
The Bills are generally on the fringes of the playoff race, hanging around into December and raising people’s hopes. As I’ve often said, the numbing parity of the NFL is your best friend.
That’s especially so this season. At 5-5, the Bills are one of five teams tied for the second wild-card spot in an AFC race that’s as cluttered as Delaware Avenue during the Trot. So Sunday’s game at Kansas City has major playoff implications in a year when a 9-7 record could earn you an outright playoff spot.
“No question it’s huge,” Rex Ryan said Wednesday. “This game is an absolutely huge game.”
He’s probably right, though it seems every game is a monumental event in Rex’s world. But after Monday’s discouragement in Foxborough, it’s starting to feel like the same old thing, another year of exaggerated expectations with a more quotable head coach at the microphone.
You know why it doesn’t feel any different? Because they don’t have a franchise quarterback. Granted, it’s only eight games, a small sample size, but I’ve lost faith in Tyrod Taylor as the real deal.
Sure, Taylor might be good enough to get them into the playoffs in a down year for the AFC. He has a good chance to be the starter again next season, mainly because the Bills have no better option. What, do you think they’ll go back to EJ Manuel to “accelerate” his development?
Taylor isn’t the answer. I know what the statistics say. He’s the sixth-rated passer in the NFL and hasn’t thrown an interception since the Giants game. But passer rating doesn’t tell the full story.
You want stats? The Bills have the most three-and-outs of any team in the league - and it was slightly better in Manuel’s two games. They have five three-and-outs in each of the last two games. In four or Taylor’s last five starts, they haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in the first half.
It doesn’t figure to get any easier against the Chiefs, who have won four straight by an average of 23 points and haven’t allowed more than 18 points in their last six. They’re at home for the first time in more than a month, so the Arrowhead crowd will be wired.
Taylor had a chance to show the world in New England. He was abysmal. He locked in on his first reads and didn’t even try to find Sammy Watkins or Charles Clay in the first half. I don’t if it’s his reluctance or his coaches, but he seems afraid to throw over the middle.
On a night when the Bills’ defense stifled Tom Brady, a geniune franchise quarterback wins that game. That’s part of the job description. The franchise QB makes opposing teams pay for an off game. He pulls out games on the road.
“We looked at the stats and we moved the ball up and down the field,” Taylor said. “We just didn’t put it in the end zone as many times as we’d have liked.”
What? Has Taylor been drinking Rex’s Kool-Aid, which requires you to see the bright side of any situation? What game was he watching? They moved into the red zone once. He missed several open receivers and underthrew Chris Hogan deep on what should have been a TD.
Ryan was asked if Taylor needs to play better than he did against the Pats.
“We all do,” Ryan said. “He’s one of the most accurate deep throwers in the entire league. He might be the most accurate deep thrower.”
He wasn’t the other night, I said.
“He was not,” Ryan said. “Exactly. He just missed. We’re short on some things. Our plan was we were going to take some shots. And if we hit a couple of them, the game’s a different outcome. So would we like to see Tyrod be more accurate with the deep ball? Yeah, because that’s what he is. So absolutely.”
Ryan talks about “complementary football,” which means an even balance of runs and passes. But teams who win with a 50-50 run-pass ratio are virtually unheard of nowadays. Russell Wilson was an exception with Seattle. Taylor is no Russell Wilson.
Taylor was the best candidate when the Bills made him the starter. Expectations weren’t terribly high. They didn’t ask him to win games with his arm, but to make some big plays and avoid the mistakes that lose games.
He has done reasonably well by that modest standard, having strong games when his passing attempts were limited. But in the three games where Taylor had to throw 30 times, the Bills lost.
The quarterback position is too precious to settle for a modest standard. You don’t make a long-term investment in a QB if your prospects diminish the more times he has to drop back in the pocket and throw the football.
We’re not talking about some high draft pick. People act as if Taylor is a rookie, but he’s in his fifth NFL season. He’s the same age as Wilson, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton. He served a four-year apprenticeship under Joe Flacco and should be more than a one-read passer by now.
“Knowledge-wise, I’ve definitely learned a lot in my five years,” Taylor said. “Experience-wise, I’m eight games in. I expect a lot of myself, as my coaches do, and I’m just going to keep getting better each and every week.”
Taylor has to improve immeasurably to make the Bills feel secure at the most vital position. His supporters feel it’s much too early to judge, that he’ll make big strides in his second year. But Doug Whaley said the same things about Manuel. How’s that working out?
The Bills have to consider a quarterback in the draft. For one thing, they need a reliable backup, either in the draft or free agency. But they have to find a real franchise QB. They’re losing ground to AFC teams (Oakland, Jacksonville, Tennessee) who found their guy in recent drafts.
Ryan created a lot of hope, but talk doesn’t turn a franchise around. You need a franchise quarterback for that. Sensible fans should know when they see one - and when they don’t.