The tension was palpable, the air filled with words unspoken.
Tyrod Taylor already had said his piece, yet the questions kept coming.
His audience wanted to know more about his mental makeup, his motivation and his mettle as an NFL signal-caller. But Taylor shifted the conversation to where he was most comfortable: the football field.
“I don’t necessarily hear (the criticisms). I stay away from the media,” the Bills quarterback said before Wednesday's practice. “We’re here to talk about Tampa Bay and getting ready for that. So any questions that pertain to that, I’m ready to answer.”
True to form, Taylor was reserved for the crowd, careful in front of the cameras. He bared his soul once within the past week and he wasn’t about to peel back the layers on his inner-most thoughts now.
Been there, done that.
Taylor opened up to me during the bye week about the criticisms that continue to dog him three years into his Bills tenure.
It was the most honest and insightful he’s been in a long while. But the window for introspection had passed by the time the media assembled for his weekly press conference.
When pressed for comments on his detractors, Taylor made it clear that his attention was elsewhere.
“Our work week is here now,” he said. “And whatever we have to do mentally and physically to get prepared on this Wednesday for Tampa Bay is what I’m focused on.”
Critics aren’t the people Taylor has to worry about convincing. It’s the coaching staff and the Bills' front office who matter most. And regardless of how much confidence Taylor has in his own ability, it’s his win-loss record (currently 17-16) that ultimately will determine how much longer he will suit up here.
“I welcome that opportunity,” Taylor said of getting the Bills (3-2) back on track. “...We control our destiny moving forward. It’s time for us as a team, time for me as a quarterback to separate from the pack and do whatever it takes to win.”
There are plenty of reasons to be encouraged by the 28-year-old: his playmaking ability, his versatility and his elusiveness outside of the pocket. But there also have been questionable decisions and subpar outings, too. His latest came in Week 5 against the Bengals when he was sacked six times (second-most in his career since Week 2 vs. the Patriots in 2015) and threw for only 166 yards in a 20-16 road loss.
Players and coaches spent the past week self-scouting. But now, they must translate that prep work into production on the field. Especially Taylor.
“As a whole, we need to come out and execute better than we’ve done in the first five games,” he said in advance of facing the Bucs (2-3) Sunday. “Looking back on it, too many negative plays, especially early on. And that’s something that we can be better at, something that I can be better at; not taking sacks, getting the running game going, as well as just being efficient in the passing game.”
Lineup changes at offensive tackle and receiver have also made it somewhat difficult to assess Taylor’s growth and production. As of now, it’s still unclear when his top target, tight end Charles Clay (knee), and receiver Jordan Matthews (thumb), will return to action. But, as Taylor knows all too well, playing the quarterback means excuses are not an option.
Head coach Sean McDermott said he’s seen “playoff-caliber moments” from the quarterback, but not nearly enough from Taylor or his entire team.
“If we have, at this point, we’d be sitting here 5-0,” McDermott said. “A lot of room for improvement.”
Despite his obvious talent, Taylor will forever be a polarizing figure here in Buffalo. He knows that. And so does his childhood idol Michael Vick.
“You look at the quarterbacks around the league — he’s better than half of them,” Vick, now an analyst for Fox Sports, told me before taping a pregame segment with Taylor after practice. “Numbers don’t lie. Touchdown-to-interception ratio has always been through the roof. And that’s how a quarterback is measured — through decision-making.”
The Bucs, meanwhile, know what to expect from Taylor, too.
“It’s going to take all of us to keep him in the pocket,” defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “He’s going to make plays because he’s that athletic, he’s that gifted. But to slow it down and make sure we limit it, we’ve got to work for as well.”
Taylor has a 62.6 completion percentage as the Bills starter, along with 6,968 passing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. This season, he has six passing touchdowns — one less than Bucs starter Jameis Winston, who was limited in practice because of a shoulder injury. If Winston isn’t healthy enough to play, ex-Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will get the start.
“He’ll throw you a couple interceptions,” Vick said, with a chuckle, of the 34-year-old journeyman who went 20-33 with 84 touchdowns and 64 interceptions in four seasons with the Bills.
Vick, meanwhile, cautioned fans against being short-sighted about Taylor.
“Just be patient with Tyrod. Tyrod has all the tools,” he said of his fellow Virginia native and Virginia Tech brother. “When you’re the quarterback you take the majority of the blame. When you win it’s all good, when you lose, they’re going to point and nitpick. It’s so many variables that take place in a football game. It’s just tough for a quarterback, man.”
But all that matters now, is how well Taylor plays from here on out.
As Vick said himself: Numbers don’t lie.