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O’Boyle: Racism plays subtle role in Taylor’s benching

| Tuesday, November 28, 2017

An interception is likely the most game-changing play in football.

Touchdowns decide the score, but it’s hard to score one unless you have the ball. Getting it without forcing the other team to punt is an instant game-changer.

Of all quarterbacks with 750 or more passes, nobody has a lower interception percentage than Buffalo Bills’ quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

I don’t mean the least total interceptions — he has that record too, but great quarterbacks with long careers can’t really compare there. I mean he’s thrown the least interceptions per attempt, a statistic where he should have no inherent advantage over longer-serving players.

And not in Bills history; in the history of the entire NFL.

Taylor throws interceptions less frequently than anyone. Less than Tom Brady, less than Aaron Rodgers. Those two are ranked second and fourth, respectively, which should speak volumes about the importance of the stat.

Brady is a leading candidate for MVP. Rodgers would have been before a collarbone injury derailed his season.

Just over a week ago, Taylor got benched.

He was benched for Nathan Peterman, a player who did his best to match Taylor’s Bills total for picks as fast as possible, throwing five in just 15 attempts against the San Diego Chargers.

Yes, the benching lasted less than a full game, and Taylor looks to have retaken his job for the remainder of the season, but it still needs to be answered.

How does a player like Taylor get benched?

Well, maybe his team was struggling. Sometimes a team just can’t win games, and it’s worth a shot to try anything new if you’ve got nothing to lose.

Except the Bills went to Los Angeles at 5-4, sitting in a wildcard spot that would have ended the longest playoff drought in the NFL. For once, Buffalo had a real chance to be playing postseason football, and head coach Sean McDermott decided to risk it all on an untested quarterback.

So maybe it wasn’t because of wins.

Maybe avoiding interceptions wasn’t enough. If Taylor wasn’t completing passes and scoring touchdowns, his benching could be excused, right? Except he’s combined for 59 passing and rushing scores in 37 games in Buffalo. This year, he’s completed over 64 percent of his passes and he has a passer rating of 91.7, all while providing a dynamic threat on the ground as one of a dangerous rusher. No other statistic puts Taylor in the elite company that his interception rate does, but all of the evidence would suggest he’s at least above average.

Maybe those interception numbers are misleading then? What if they all came at the worst times. Except Taylor’s didn’t. This year’s three picks came on third-and-eight, third-and-12 and third-and-15. One was with the Bills trailing with barely over two minutes left, another was with the Bills down by 21 in the second half. In other words, they came in situations where Taylor needed to take risks and an incompletion or a sack would have been almost as game-changing.

So maybe Nathan Peterman was just really, really good? Nobody feels a sense of injustice over the Patriots benching franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe for Tom Brady, right? Um, well Peterman’s performance against the Chargers kind of speaks for itself. No disrespect to the former Pitt quarterback, he might have been able to turn into a solid player with some time, but he was forced to start a game he never should have, before he was ready, because a much better player was benched.

So what does that leave? Is there something else about Tyrod Taylor? Something that marks him as different from the average NFL quarterback?

In 2017, surely racism isn’t still affecting personnel decisions this blatantly?

Well, we already saw Colin Kaepernick — who sits right between Brady and Rodgers in interception rate, by the way — get blackballed by the league for speaking up about racial issues.

Now, Taylor is the reminder that even a non-controversial black quarterback playing like an above-average starter has a short leash. Black quarterbacks can certainly be given opportunities in today’s league, as Russell Wilson and Cam Newton have proven, but they never seem to be given the same opportunities to prove themselves as their white counterparts. One bad game after a career of above-average ones, and Taylor found himself on the bench.

In 1969, the Bills became the first pro football team to open a season with an African-American starting under center. Today, you’d expect that negative perceptions about black quarterbacks would have passed.

Yet nine days ago, a 5-4 team’s new quarterback threw five interceptions. The most damaging play in football, five times.

Because all-time great levels of ball security and a path to the playoffs aren’t enough for a black quarterback. It’s hard to believe that can still be said in 2017.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

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