If Tyrod Taylor could play against the Dolphins every week, he would be an established franchise quarterback making in the neighborhood of $25 million a year.
There's something about Miami that brings out the best in Taylor. Entering Sunday's showdown at New Era, he was averaging 251 yards passing — well ahead of his production against the rest of the NFL — in four career starts against the Dolphins.
Sure enough, with the Bills desperately needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, Taylor played his best game in more than a month. He threw for 224 yards and a touchdown, ran for another and kept plays alive all afternoon with his legs as the Bills drilled the Dolphins, 24-16, in the home finale at New Era Field.
They still have a lot of work to do. In fact, they gave their fans a scare by allowing Miami to recover an onsides kick with 37 seconds left after pulling within eight points. But Tre'Davious White picked off Jay Cutler on the first play after the kickoff, sealing the win.
One week before Christmas, the Bills actually looked like a playoff team, outplaying Miami in all three phases as they raised their record to 8-6, still tied for an AFC wild-card spot, and finished with six home wins in a season for the first time since 1999 — the last year they made the playoffs.
The Dolphins loomed as a difficult test after beating the Patriots on Monday night. But the Bills seized control from the start, as Taylor drove them to their first touchdown on an opening possession all season. Miami got to within a point at 7-6, midway through the second, but Taylor led the Bills to two late first-half touchdowns and the outcome was never in doubt thereafter.
Taylor was 12-for-18 passing for 165 yards in a brilliant first half. On the opening drive, he was 5-for-6 passing and wriggled out of a sack to complete a third-down pass to LeSean McCoy (who went over 10,000 career rushing yards). He floated a perfect throw to McCoy for a 16-yard TD that made it 14-6. Taylor sprinted 9 yards for a TD just before half to make it 21-6. He was ordinary after halftime, but the vital work was done.
Miami looked nothing like the team that had drilled New England six days earlier. They resembled the sorry outfit that was shut out twice this season, lost five games in a row at one point, and had been outscored by 82 points on the year heading into Sunday.
Jay Cutler, who had his best game of the year against the Pats, reverted to his familiar pedestrian form. He looked like a man who was contemplating a return to the announcing booth. Cutler threw a couple of brutal interceptions and several other high, uncatchable ducks. He passed for 274 yards, but a chunk of that was in garbage time. Taylor outplayed him badly.
In retrospect, the Dolphins were seriously overestimated, based on one game in New England. But that's the kind of year it's been in the league, especially in the muddled, mediocre AFC. A team looks dreadful one week, then turns it around and plays well the next.
Look at the Bills, who gave up 135 points in three weeks, then found themselves defensively and won three of their next four, allowing only 56 points in the process.
How could they look so bad against the Saints and Chargers, but so formidable and well-coached against the Chiefs and Dolphins?
How could the Chiefs lose four in a row, including consecutive losses to the Giants, Bills and Jets, then come alive to beat the Raiders and Chargers in convincing fashion?
Bills fans can simply be thankful that there are so many average teams in the conference, allowing their heroes to be tied for the final playoff spot with two weeks left when they were expected to finish well out of the running in Sean McDermott's debut as head coach.
McDermott's decision to bench Taylor a month ago looks even more dubious now, with the Bills needing him to lead their playoff push. If the Bills get there, it'll make the call on Taylor's future more difficult. You have to wonder if they turned to Nathan Peterman for that very reason, so Taylor wouldn't have a playoff run on his checkered resume.
The road gets more daunting now, with games in New England and Miami left. They might have to win out. Otherwise, they'll need help and have to survive potential tiebreakers.
But this performance can give a fan confidence that anything is possible in this wide-open and wildly unpredictable AFC season. If the Pats could lose handily to this Miami team, you can't even rule out a win in New England.