ORCHARD PARK — Devin McCourty, the former safety for the Patriots and now an analyst for NBC, said he remembered playing against Tyrod Taylor back when he was the starting quarterback for the Bills. The Patriots tended to win those games, but Taylor would always get his.
“I used to tell him after every game, ‘You’re the real-life Willie Beamen from ‘Any Given Sunday,’ ” McCourty said on Sunday night. “They’d throw some quick slants, but when that would break down, he was shakin’, bakin’ and makin’ it happen.”
That’s the quarterback the Giants turned to with Daniel Jones sidelined by a neck injury in Sunday night’s game against the Bills, the quarterback who hadn’t started since 2021 when he was in Houston, the quarterback who the rest of the country saw was going to play and decided to bump the point spread up over 15 points.
He’s also the quarterback who managed to somehow keep the Giants in the game until the Bills eventually rallied for a 14-9 victory.
It was MVP candidate Josh Allen, the quarterback who replaced Taylor at the end of his tenure in Buffalo, who came up with the bigger plays, throwing for two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Allen, as he often is, was the best player in this game.
Taylor, though, received the award for most entertaining player on the field.
That lasted right until the end when he managed to drive the Giants to the 1-yard line for an untimed down and threw an incompletion to Darren Waller in the back of the end zone.
On a day when two backup quarterbacks already had managed to beat the only two previously unbeaten teams in the league, Taylor nearly had the most improbable upset of them all. It wasn’t enough to beat the Bills, but it was fun to watch in a morbid, mud-slinging kind of way.
And let’s face it, the one thing the Giants haven’t been this season is watchable.
Jones probably still will be the starter once he is cleared to return from that worrisome neck injury. But on Sunday night, Taylor made the case that he is better than Jones at thriving in the tumult and being more comfortable in the chaos.
As long as that’s the case for these Giants, with linemen in bizarre spots and injuries forcing duct-tape Rube Goldberg personnel groupings, there might at least be an argument to stick with Taylor for the time being.
“He’s a pro,” Brian Daboll said of Taylor. “I’m glad we have him. I thought he did a heck of a job tonight.”
Some of the bedlam was self-inflicted. Taylor muffed a golden opportunity for the Giants to take something close to a commanding lead at the end of the first half. The Giants, up 6-0, had the ball first-and-goal at the Bills’ 1 with 15 seconds left but no timeouts. They seemed assured of points unless they ran the ball and came up short of the end zone.
Taylor changed the play at the line of scrimmage to a run, handed off to Saquon Barkley, and the play was stuffed. The Giants never got a chance to get to the line and spike it to stop the clock.
Daboll gave Taylor an earful as they left the field for the locker room. When Daboll came back out on the field, he was so flustered, he couldn’t even conduct the obligatory second-half interview with the broadcast team.
Taylor? He was cool, baby. This kind of crazy, it seems, is where he lives his best life.
Make no mistake, this game was all kinds of bananas for the Giants. It began with Justin Pugh, signed to the practice squad just two weeks ago, making his first NFL start in more than a year coming back from a torn ACL. The former first-round pick for the Giants even had a cheeky line for his NBC player intro: “Justin Pugh, straight off the couch.”
By the end of the first quarter, Pugh was at left tackle, a position he hasn’t played since 2015, and doing as good a job as anyone could have expected.
“Craziest [expletive] thing I’ve ever done in my career,” he said.
Then there was Barkley, back from the high ankle sprain that had cost him the previous three games. After a slow start to his night, he was able to flash a little something and rattled off runs of 19 and 34 yards on back-to-back snaps in the fourth quarter to help move the Giants into field-goal range and eventually take a 9-7 lead with 10:35 left.
Taylor, though, was the circus’ headliner. Though the Giants did not score an offensive touchdown for the third straight game, Taylor was 24-for-36 for 200 yards and scrambled for another 24 on five carries. Even playing behind the porous and makeshift offensive line, he was sacked only three times, getting the ball out quickly and decisively.
“I know what I am capable of doing,” Taylor said when asked if he proved anything to the Giants, the Bills or himself. “I’ve always had confidence in what I can do. We gave ourselves a chance to win today.”
And tomorrow? The Giants will be back on Jones Watch waiting to see how his neck heals up and if he can play Sunday against Washington.
If he can’t, Taylor said he again will be ready to play . . . and embrace the pandemonium this season already has become.