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Jerry Sullivan: Tyrod Taylor fails to rise to the moment

Jerry Sullivan

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It's around this time every year, after the Christmas season comes barging in, that I begin looking forward to my annual viewing of "It's A Wonderful Life" with my family.

The exact number escapes me. Let's just say I've been watching George Bailey kiss Mary Hatch on the stairs since well before the Bills' playoff drought began in 2000.

Of course, that movie has a happy ending (after 71 years, does it require a spoiler alert?). I'm not a fan of sad, redundant storylines, which is why the Bills' loss to the Patriots at New Era on Sunday was such a grim, deadening experience.

The Bills lost, 23-3. They always lose to Tom Brady and the Pats when it really matters. I've seen them lose in every way imaginable — in blowouts and bore-fests and unspeakable, narrow defeats. I've seen fumbled kickoffs, sack-fumble TDs, Bills coaches fumbling to get the challenge flag out of their pocket.

But it's the stark difference at quarterback that has distinguished this AFC East non-rivalry. A generation of Bills QBs has faced Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and melted down in the big moment, accentuating the colossal gap between the franchises.

On a day when Brady was average and the Bills' defense played admirably in the first half, the game was there for the taking, if only the Bills could have sustained the semblance of an offense against the NFL's 30th-rated defense.

Watch: Our Team's Takeaway from Bills' loss to Patriots

Tyrod Taylor wasn't up to it. He played like a glorified backup, which is essentially what he is. Taylor completed 9 of 18 passes for 65 yards before leaving after three quarters with a knee injury suffered on the Bills' first offensive play.

His apologists, a diminishing horde, could point to the injury as an excuse. But he insisted on staying in the game, and he looked fine on a signature 18-yard scramble late in the first quarter, which might have gone for even more if he hadn't stepped out of bounds.

Taylor is a tough customer; he has taken some fearful hits since becoming the starter and dragged himself back into the huddle. He's always known he could be one injury away from losing his job, and that's particularly the case this year.

Bills coach Sean McDermott jumped the gun when he made Nathan Peterman his starter before the Chargers game. He got killed for it around the NFL, and with reason. But anyone who watched Taylor against the Pats on Sunday could understand why McDermott felt he needed something better at the position.

How many times does Taylor have to play this way before people stop pretending he's a franchise QB? He missed easy throws, checked down for short completions while failing to see open receivers downfield, threw a brutal interception on first-and-goal on the Bills' opening possession.

Maybe Taylor can beat Brady in a 40-yard dash, but watch the way Brady makes those subtle slides to buy space in the pocket. That's a great athlete. Taylor failed to make that little move to the right on the interception, allowing a blocker to be bumped into him and alter the throw.

"To score three points, we've got to do a better job," McDermott said. "I'm not going to sugarcoat that at all. We've got to score more than three points and put a defense under pressure. I thought we had a good first drive, and then we gave the ball up. You can't do that in the NFL, particularly in the red zone."

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That's as close as McDermott comes to criticizing a player. He didn't take Tyrod off the hook by talking about the knee injury. A week earlier, after Taylor played unremarkably in a win at the Chiefs, McDermott called it a good game by the offense.

McDermott decided to bring Taylor back, despite two years of film that showed his obvious shortcomings. He owes it to Taylor to let him play until the Bills are eliminated from the playoffs. But he made it clear with the Peterman switch that he's done with Taylor.

He has reason. In the home loss to the Saints, Taylor threw for 56 yards. That's when McDermott decided on Peterman. Sunday, in the next game at New Era, Taylor was equally bad. Over a stretch of six quarters, dating back to the New Orleans fiasco, Taylor was 16-for-31 passing for 104 yards, without a completion over 10 yards.

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The Bills aren't winning playoff games with that sort of quarterback play, even if they happen to sneak into the tournament in a down year for the AFC. McDermott must have known that, but he figured Taylor could hold the fort and keep the Bills competitive before he and Brandon Beane found a franchise guy in the draft.

McDermott didn't have much information about Taylor's knee. "He took a hit early in the game there," he said. "He's being evaluated and that remains the case. I'm not going to get into next week at all at this point until I know more medically."

Asked if he had considered lifting Taylor sooner, McDermott said, "We talked about it. He said he could continue at the time. Up until he couldn't, that's what we did."

Taylor wasn't going to ask out, and I suspect McDermott was happy to let him continue. The injury could give McDermott an excuse to do what seemed unlikely, and politically inadvisable, after Taylor went back in and helped the Bills pull the upset in Kansas City — put in Peterman with the Bills still in the playoff hunt.

The Bills are still alive, but it's hardly a wonderful life. They've lost four of their last five, by an average margin of 25 points (aggregate score, 158-58). They came into the game ranked 25th in the league in offense and 26th in defense. When they're not getting multiple takeaways, they're one of the worst teams in the NFL.

Beane and McDermott know it. They look at their popgun offense and leaky defense and realize this Bills team is a long way from being a legitimate contender. They have a lot of holes to fill, and it starts with finding a franchise quarterback who can stand up to Brady and Belichick in the big games, instead of falling on his face.

The hard reality is, it will probably get worse before it gets better. Maybe someone should make a movie about what it would be like for Bills fans if Tom Brady had never lived.

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