OAKLAND, Calif. -- It would be unfair to pin blame for the Buffalo Bills' 15-point second-half collapse to the Oakland Raiders on quarterback Tyrod Taylor, just as it would be overstating Taylor's flaws to say he is the reason the Bills are effectively out of the playoff race.
But after the snowball effect of the Raiders' scoring 29 unanswered points seemed to overwhelm Taylor and his teammates in perhaps the Bills' most important game of their season, Sunday's 38-24 loss, it is fair to wonder about Taylor's ceiling and his future as the starting quarterback in Buffalo.
Taylor has $30.75 million in contract guarantees due in March. The Bills can avoid paying those only by releasing him and starting fresh at quarterback. Taylor has rarely played poorly enough in his 25 starts with the Bills for the team to justify cutting ties with him, but his brutal second-half performance Sunday was a reminder that the Bills are taking a financial risk in keeping him around.
After completing eight of nine passes for 102 yards in the first quarter, Taylor's accuracy and decision-making in the pocket eroded over the remainder of the game. He completed 10 of 26 passes for only 89 yards in the final three quarters and got little help from his offensive line over the final stages against Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack, who strip-sacked Taylor and appeared to hit his arm to force an interception.
If you were looking for Taylor to explain what went wrong Sunday, he wasn't interested in the topic after the game. When a reporter posed a reasonable question asking him to pinpoint what changed from the first to the final three quarters, Taylor responded with a curt, "Nope."
Coach Rex Ryan, who has been an ardent supporter of Taylor since he named him the Bills' starter at the beginning of last season, had little insight to offer in his postgame news conference about the steep decline in Taylor's performance as the game progressed.
"I'm not real sure," Ryan said. "We'll know a lot more about it when we watch the tape. I really can't tell you."
Here's what the stats show: Taylor, now 14-12 as the Bills' starter, has seen his completion percentage, yards per attempt, passer rating and Total QBR all dip from last season. His 37.6 Total QBR and 55.8 passer rating Sunday were both the second-lowest of his Bills career, and they could not have come at a worse time for a Bills team desperate for a win on the road against the NFL's 28th-ranked pass defense.
Until recently, injuries complicated the Bills' evaluation of Taylor because he was without top receiver Sammy Watkins, on injured reserve with a foot injury, from Week 3 through Week 11. On Sunday, Taylor was without No. 2 receiver Robert Woods because of a knee injury and his top tight end, Charles Clay, because of the birth of Clay's child. But the return of Watkins should have far outweighed the loss of Woods and Clay, who has been a minimal factor in the passing offense this season.
Instead, Taylor and Watkins rarely seemed to be on the same page Sunday. There were multiple plays on which Watkins either ran the wrong route or Taylor did not communicate Watkins' assignment correctly, and late in the fourth quarter, Taylor badly overthrew an open Watkins on a would-be touchdown pass from the 28-yard line.
Ryan has acknowledged that it was tough to evaluate Taylor because of the injuries around him, but he said Nov. 16, "I think Tyrod is an outstanding quarterback. I really do. Hopefully we’ll find out soon if we really have a full deck of how good this kid could really be."
The Bills still might not have exactly a full deck around Taylor, but his supporting cast generally did its job Sunday. Running backs LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee combined for 179 yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders' leaky run defense, giving Taylor a backfield other quarterbacks could only hope to have at their disposal.
Yet when the Raiders rallied late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter to put the Bills behind midway through the fourth quarter, the task fell on Taylor -- and not McCoy or anyone else -- to match the Raiders' offensive output. Like most other times when Taylor has fallen behind in games, he failed to deliver.
Ryan, however, remained reluctant to draw any conclusions about Taylor's continuing inability to lead comebacks in games.
"Look, let's just let this play out," Ryan said postgame. "We feel pretty comfortable with Tyrod. There's a lot of factors that go into everything."
What were those factors?
"I'm not going to go into a list of them," he said. "You guys can figure it out."
Until Ryan makes it clear what factors should shelter Taylor from criticism, it is fair to question whether Taylor has what it takes to earn $30 million next season and continue along the current path as the Bills' long-term answer at the position.