New Orleans broke the Bills on Sunday. First, Buffalo's spirit was shattered by 298 Saints rushing yards in one of the greatest platonic ideals of power football recorded this century. Then, the Bills' logic split open Wednesday when coach Sean McDermott announced quarterback Tyrod Taylor would be benched for rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman.
A team built around its defense and turnover margin gave up 81 points in two embarrassing weeks, so they switched out the overachieving veteran quarterback after giving him one game with his new No. 1 receiver. Got it.
This is a move some expected in August, because Taylor is a remnant of the old Bills regime, while Peterman's a hand-picked prospect by the new guard. But that was during Taylor's difficult preseason, not after an encouraging nine-game stretch where he became one of the reasons the Bills are in position to make their first playoff appearance in 18 years.
Taylor is coming off his worst game of the season, having taken too many checkdowns in long-yardage situations against New Orleans. But that was a full-scale meltdown by the entire Bills team, especially the coaching staff and defense. For most of this season, Taylor has consistently executed a game plan with little margin for error, making multiple big plays per week for a team that doesn't throw the ball often or have many receiving weapons. After injuries to Charles Clay and Jordan Matthews early in the season, Taylor kept Buffalo's offense efficient despite having players like Nick O'Leary and Deonte Thompson as his top targets in wins.
I grade each snap taken during the season and have Taylor ranked 15th among starting quarterbacks so far this year. He finished each of the last two seasons no lower than No. 18 in the QB Index. Pro Football Focus has him ranked ninth this season, and he's currently 16th in passer rating with 10 touchdowns against three interceptions. Not to mention, Taylor boasts one of the best skill sets as a runner in football. He's a capable starter in a league short on them, but the Bills clearly don't want him. This is the type of move that teams don't look back from.
Taylor, meanwhile, can look forward to a new team in 2018. He has a $6 million bonus due in March and will surely be released if the Bills can't find a trading partner for him. So where could he end up?
New York Jets: No team is starting from scratch at quarterback more than the Jets, so they should be on any list like this.
Arizona Cardinals: It's difficult to guess how this entire organization will look next season, but it won't be a surprise if the Cards are looking for a new starter.
Taylor handled this latest setback with equanimity, much like he did a year ago when he was benched for EJ Manuel.
"I don't look at life as fair or unfair," Taylor said Wednesday at a Bills podium for perhaps the last time.
It's the healthiest way to approach life in the NFL, especially as a quarterback in Buffalo.
This is the Quarterback Index. The QBs are ranked based on 2017 play only. The next ranking of all 32 starters comes after Week 12.
**2017 stats:** 9 games | 67.3 pct | 2,807 pass yds | 8.2 ypa | 19 pass TD | 2 INT </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 9 games | 60.5 pct | 2,262 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 23 pass TD | 5 INT | 211 rush yds | 0 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 9 games | 69.6 pct | 2,444 pass yds | 8.3 ypa | 18 pass TD | 1 INT | 173 rush yds | 1 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 9 games | 62.7 pct | 2,543 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 19 pass TD | 6 INT | 290 rush yds | 1 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 9 games | 71.7 pct | 2,398 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 13 pass TD | 4 INT | 2 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
Brees got a front-row seat in Buffalo to watch New Orleans' offensive line maul the Bills. It's almost like the Saints should quit for the season, because they can't get any better than that performance. Having the O-line healthy and intact again should also reap dividends in the aerial attack, with Brees getting plenty of time to throw, and passing during predictable running downs. Defenses will naturally begin to live with more one-on-one matchups on the outside in an effort to slow down the Saints' fierce running game, and Brees is more than capable of taking advantage.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
**2017 stats:** 9 games | 63.3 pct | 1,994 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 16 pass TD | 4 INT | 237 rush yds | 5 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 9 games | 62.6 pct | 2,461 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 17 pass TD | 5 INT </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 9 games | 66.6 pct | 2,372 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 13 pass TD | 8 INT </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 10 games | 62.1 pct | 2,232 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 14 pass TD | 11 INT | 436 rush yds | 4 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
Stafford and Ryan have risen up the ranks by playing at a top-five level over the last three weeks.
The Panthers turned their season around when they decided to build their offense (again) around Newton's incredible running ability. He has also made some gorgeous throws from the pocket the last two weeks and missed a handful of layups, but that sort of streakiness is part of his package. The problem Cam creates as a runner (and threat to run) is what makes him unlike any quarterback in NFL history. It's as if offensive coordinator Mike Shula dusted off the playbook from 2013-15, updated it to fit Christian McCaffrey, and decided to stop worrying about "protecting" Newton's shoulder until the offseason. Cam's persona tends to get more attention than his play, which is a shame, because his game is worth savoring for however long his prime lasts.
**2017 stats:** 9 games | 61.1 pct | 2,298 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 12 pass TD | 10 INT </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 9 games | 61.2 pct | 2,385 pass yds | 8.5 ypa | 16 pass TD | 4 INT | 1 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 8 games | 62.1 pct | 1,783 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 7 pass TD | 6 INT | 181 rush yds | 3 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 8 games | 65.2 pct | 1,954 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 13 pass TD | 7 INT </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 9 games | 66.5 pct | 2,474 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 14 pass TD | 5 INT | 130 rush yds | 3 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 9 games | 64.2 pct | 1,684 pass yds | 6.6 ypa | 10 pass TD | 3 INT | 237 rush yds | 2 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
Mariota being able to use his running ability against Cincinnati is similar to Cam Newton's return to form as a dominant force in the ground game. Mariota's run/pass options and ability to get outside the pocket can help ignite a stagnant running attack for Tennessee that can't quite get over the reality that the offensive line isn't as good as its reputation.
Cousins continues to battle every week. He's going to miss some throws, but he's holding up well, considering the team's lack of a running attack and rotating receiver crew (big-ticket free-agent addition Terrelle Pryor just posted a target-less game last week).
Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings: Mike Zimmer announced Wednesday that Keenum would retain his starting job over Teddy Bridgewater, the only surprise being that an announcement was necessary at all. Keenum has earned the job by helping the Vikings win five straight games, but Zimmer's delay in letting the public know is a tip-off that this is now a weekly question. It's a signal that a transition is coming and perhaps inevitable.
Keenum's performance against the Redskins in Week 10 was instructive. His four-touchdown effort was typical of his inspired play all season, with the journeyman showing the willingness to trust his talented wide receivers down the field. When a play breaks down, Keenum can often make something happen.
But it was not one of Keenum's better games of the year -- and the coaching staff has to be concerned with the 29-year-old's streaky play and decision-making. The Redskins dropped an ill-advised throw from Keenum early in the contest and picked off two more poor passes in the second half, which allowed Washington to get back into the game. The Vikings' defense picked Keenum up, and he converted a key third down after the miscues, a laudable example of putting bad plays behind him like he did after rough first-half outings against Baltimore and Cleveland. Keenum tends to take chances, and his four straight games with at least one pick is a concerning trend despite his overall solid play.
Keenum will have to maintain his high level to match the excellent coaching, pass protection and receiver play around him -- or risk learning, like Tyrod Taylor, that the NFL isn't about fairness.
Check the Air Index each week to see which quarterbacks are delivering at the top of their game, just like FedEx Ground delivers with fast and affordable shipping.