Injured Houston Texans QB Tyrod Taylor yields starting role to rookie, again

CLEVELAND -- As Tyrod Taylor sat in the visitors locker room at halftime of the Houston Texans’ 31-21 loss to the Cleveland Browns, he insisted he was OK.

During the second quarter, Taylor injured his left hamstring, tweaking it while running in for a 15-yard touchdown. But when Texans coach David Culley went to see how his quarterback was doing, Taylor told him he wanted to play the second half.

“When I went in at halftime, and we looked him over, he says, ‘I’m alright,’" Culley said. “But I looked at him and I looked at him in his eyes and it was just his competitiveness saying, ‘I’m OK.’ But I kind of knew he wasn’t OK.

“But as soon as I realized, I told him, I said, ‘Look, we’re going with Davis [Mills]. I said, this is for the long haul, this is not for the short haul.’”

Taylor, who was replaced by the rookie Mills to start the third quarter, injured his hamstring on the same field he exited with a concussion as the Browns starting quarterback in Week 3 of the 2018 season, a job that year’s No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield took and never gave back.

Taylor's career might seem snake bitten since he was traded by the Buffalo Bills in 2018. He has started six games over the past four seasons -- in part due to injuries -- after starting 43 for Buffalo from 2015-17. But in his 11th NFL season, Taylor has embraced the "control what you can control" mindset -- something he learned from his last two stops in the NFL.

“If anything, last year, 2020 taught us all, not just athletes, that of course first and foremost your health is very important, of course to yourself, obviously, but to others as well,” Taylor said of playing during the COVID-19 pandemic. “... It also taught us that you have to be ready for change at any given point.”

Change is something Taylor knows well.

Cleveland, 2018

The Browns traded for Taylor on May 9, 2018 -- the same day Cleveland traded its 2017 starter, Deshon Kizer, to the Green Bay Packers. But Cleveland had used the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft on Mayfield.

Drew Stanton was also in the Browns' quarterback room that season with Taylor and Mayfield and said the “plan all along” was for Taylor to remain the starter.

“That room was unique in the sense that you had a first overall pick, but they were going to try and get the team as good as they could before they threw Baker out there because of some of the issues they had,” Stanton said.

Taylor, who was a sixth-rounder for the Baltimore Ravens in the 2011 draft, was known as a high-character player during his time in Buffalo, and the Browns knew he was the right guy to help the transition.

Taylor started the first three games for the Browns, including a tie with the Steelers for the Browns' first season-opening non-loss since 2004. Then there was a close loss in New Orleans the following week -- a game Taylor says Cleveland “should have won” -- and the Jets game where Mayfield took over after Taylor suffered his third concussion in 13 months.

Stanton said Taylor continued to be the first person in the building in the mornings and the quarterback’s attitude “didn’t change at all.”

“That’s what I was most impressed about,” Stanton said. “I said, ‘Look, everybody’s got their eyes on you. The way you’ve carried yourself, I have so much respect for you.’

“And I respected him a lot before that and I was just blown away by how [Tyrod] … continued to approach it the same way as if he were the starter. He still showed up earlier than everybody else. He was still doing everything, still very engaged and very involved.”

Taylor said losing the job in the way that he did was “tough to swallow,” but that sometimes “that’s just how the dice rolls.”

“My mindset had to shift at that point to, 'How can I help my team be better?'" Taylor said. “... To lose the job after that was definitely tough. But I think everything that has happened in my career up until this point has definitely prepared me and allowed me to keep a clear headspace to attack any obstacle with the right mindset and with a positive outlook on it and just focus on being the best person I can in every situation.”

Los Angeles, 2019-2020

Although the Browns wanted Taylor back in Cleveland in 2019, he opted to sign a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Chargers. After sitting behind Philip Rivers in his final season with the team, Taylor was named the starting quarterback for the 2020 season.

Again, there was a young quarterback in waiting. Justin Herbert was taken with the No. 6 overall pick in that year’s draft, and the plan was for Taylor to start. But once again Taylor's tenure as starter was shortlived.

Taylor cracked two of his ribs during the Chargers’ first offensive drive in the season-opening win over the Cincinnati Bengals. He finished that game, and was preparing for a divisional matchup in Week 2 against the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. But a Chargers team doctor tried to give Taylor a pain-killing injection just before kickoff and accidentally punctured Taylor’s lung.

“How it happened was kind of crazy,” Taylor said. “It was a little more serious than the concussion when I was in Cleveland. More so, once that happened, I had to shift to, ‘Is everything going to be all right?’ first.”

Taylor went to the hospital because he was struggling to breathe. Herbert started that game and every other game the rest of the season. He went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Taylor once again shifted his role to mentoring the young quarterback who took over for him when he was injured.

And although Taylor said there’s “no bad feeling towards whatever happened” in Los Angeles, the way his Chargers career ended become a source of motivation.

“You learn from it, you move forward,” Taylor said. “I don’t believe in holding on to things. I just, like I said, I’m more so thankful and grateful for the opportunity to be able to lace the cleats up, put the helmet on and go out and make plays.

“But yes, definitely more motivated than I’ve ever been.”

Houston, 2021

Two games into the season, Taylor will have to recover from the hamstring injury after being replaced by rookie quarterback Davis Mills for the second half Sunday.

While Culley didn’t have a timeline for Taylor’s return, he praised what Mills was able to do when he came into the game in the second half, despite taking very few first-team reps in the week leading up to the game.

“On our sideline, it was as if Tyrod was in there when he was in there,” Culley said. “It was no different. We didn’t really do anything different.”

Although Mills was not a top pick -- he was the Texans’ first pick of the draft in the third round -- he is still a rookie quarterback backing up Taylor. Going into the season, some in the building believed Mills had to play at some point so the Texans can gauge his ability to compete for starting role in the future.

Unlike Mayfield and Herbert, Mills is not necessarily seen as the future of the franchise.

It’s been six months since Taylor signed in Houston, but it hasn’t taken long for that leadership to permeate a Texans locker room that also includes quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is on the team’s 53-man roster despite facing 22 civil lawsuits with allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior. Watson also requested a trade during the offseason and reported to training camp to avoid a $50,000 daily fine.

Taylor is the “same guy,” Texans linebacker Christian Kirksey said he played with in Cleveland in 2018.

“He already was a polished vet, a polished quarterback and he’s just playing more and more confidently,” Kirksey said. “That’s the biggest thing I see in him. But he’s always been that poised guy, that great leader.”

And although center Justin Britt hadn’t been teammates with Taylor before, he summed up the hope of the franchise not long after watching Taylor’s day end prematurely.

“Losing 5 definitely hurts,” Britt said. “I don’t think this is something that … with his career history, I don’t think this is one of those scenarios. This is going to be fine. We trust him.”