BOSTON (CBS) — The Buffalo Bills made a real head scratcher of a move two weeks ago, benching quarterback Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman.
Taylor isn’t among the best quarterbacks in the league, but he’s no slouch either. He helped get Buffalo off to a 5-2 start as a duel-threat with his arm and legs, and more importantly, he doesn’t turn the ball over much with just three interceptions and one fumble on the season.
But a Thursday night loss to the New York Jets followed by a lackluster performance by Taylor in a home loss to the New Orleans Saints made rookie head coach Sean McDermott lose his mind, and he named an unproven rookie as their starter for a Week 11 game in Los Angeles. Peterman rewarded his coach by throwing five interceptions in the first half, and Taylor was back under center for the final 30 minutes Buffalo’s 54-24 blowout loss to the Chargers.
The mysterious move had Buffalo back to being one of the laughingstocks of the NFL, though Taylor quieted those loud giggles with a steady performance in last Sunday’s 16-10 win over the Chiefs. He only threw for 183 yards, but didn’t turn the ball over and kept a number of plays alive with his feet. The much-needed win has 6-5 Bills clinging to their playoff hopes, a tie-breaker behind the Baltimore Ravens for the sixth-seed in the AFC, as they welcome the AFC East-leading New England Patriots to Buffalo on Sunday.
The Bills have never had much success against the Patriots with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in charge, but it was clear on Wednesday that Taylor has a fan in the New England head coach. He may be just 1-4 in his career against the Pats, but Belichick discussed the difficulties that go with keeping Taylor in check. Limiting his ability to extend plays will be a big key on Sunday, as Taylor is Buffalo’s second-leading rusher with 302 yards and an average of 4.6 yards per carry.
But keeping him from earning a few extra seconds with his legs is not something that has gone very well for most NFL teams this season.
“No teams have been very successful at that. He’s very good,” Belichick said of Taylor. “If you don’t let him run laterally and throw the ball, he can run up the middle and run the ball. He’s hard to tackle, and [Week 8 against] Tampa is a good example of that. It’s a tough problem.”
In that 30-27 win over the Buccaneers, Taylor picked up 58 yards on six rushes, including scrambles of 26 and 16 yards. He also completed 20 of his 33 pass attempts for 268 yards and a touchdown.
“His ability to extend plays, I would say, is just as concerning or dangerous and tough to defend as him actually pulling the ball down and running with it. That’s a problem, too. But extending the play and throwing it is, I’d say, as big or probably a bigger problem,” said the coach.
Belichick said simply putting a player out there to spy on Taylor, who has averaged 7.23 yards per career in his career against the Patriots, is not the answer.
“Plenty of teams have put a spy on him, and then he beats the spy and there’s no one left, so it’s 20-30 yards,” he said. “You have to do it right and he has to get him, and he has to get him.”
Brissett beat the Patriots (who had Jacoby Brissett and his broken hand at quarterback) in Buffalo last season, completing 27 of his 39 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown. The New England defense had their struggles against mobile quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Cam Newton earlier this season, as each rushed for over 40 yards on their eight carries, including a touchdown run by Newton. They’ve molding into form over the last seven weeks, but Sunday’s matchup against Taylor is a new wrinkle for the unit to juggle.
With much of the focus on the crafty LeSean McCoy, it would be easy for the Patriots to lose Taylor and let the quarterback be his versatile self. But it’s pretty clear that Belichick isn’t going to let that happen, and is going to make Taylor try to beat the Patriots with his arm on Sunday.