Bills QB Tyrod Taylor talks about returning to play at M&T Bank Stadium, where he spent four seasons as the backup to Ravens QB Joe Flacco. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Tyrod Taylor's conversations with his ex-teammates have pretty much ceased this week, but both sides have four years worth of dialogue to put Sunday's game into proper perspective. From 2011 to 2014, Taylor ran the Ravens' scout team. It was the backup quarterback's job during the week to get the defense ready to play for the upcoming game.
Taylor played the role of Colin Kaepernick during the lead-in to Super Bowl XLVII, and mimicked Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and many other quarterbacks during his time in Baltimore. All the while, he had plenty of conversations with Ravens defensive players about what it would be like if it they had to prepare for him.
"The reality was, I probably was going to leave Baltimore at some point or another," Taylor said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters. "To get a chance to come back as a starter was definitely something I hoped for and I have an opportunity to do so now. I'm excited, but it's not about me. This game is not about me at all. This game is about the Buffalo Bills going to Baltimore and trying to get a win on the road."
The Ravens' matchup with the Bills on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium is loaded with storylines beyond the pomp and circumstance of a regular-season opener. For the Ravens, quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. and rush linebacker Terrell Suggs will play in their first regular-season games since season-ending injuries last year. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman, the Ravens' 2015 first-round pick, is in line to make his NFL debut after a knee injury forced him to miss his entire rookie season.
Head coach Rex Ryan, assistant defensive backs coach Ed Reed and Taylor are among the Bills who will be experiencing a homecoming of sorts. Taylor, 27, hasn't been back to Baltimore since he left as a free agent following the 2014 season. He returns as a bona fide starting quarterback, the recent recipient of a six-year, $92 million contract extension and as a 2015 Pro Bowl selection.
"You guys saw it last year and we saw it for the last four years. He's really, really good," said Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith who was in Taylor's draft class in 2011. Smith was taken in the first round while the Ravens took Taylor, out of Virginia Tech, in the sixth. "He was stuck behind Joe, but we knew how good he was as a scout team quarterback. The fact that he went off and started his first year out shows you how good he was."
Taylor saw action in 14 regular-season games in four years for the Ravens. He didn't start any of the team's 70 games during that span, as Flacco was in the midst of posting 122 consecutive starts, the fifth longest streak in NFL history. In his Ravens career, Taylor threw 35 passes, completing 19 of them for 199 yards. He threw two interceptions and no touchdown passes.
Taylor never distinguished himself in mop-up duty and he put forth mostly uneven performances in the preseason. However, Taylor's teammates raved about how he performed in practice, and the struggles they had dealing with his athleticism and arm strength. After Buffalo signed Taylor, Ryan said part of the reason was because of glowing recommendations from ex-Raven defensive standouts Reed and Ray Lewis.
"Everybody knows Tyrod is a heck of a quarterback and Baltimore never wanted to lose him, that's for sure," Ryan said. "But Tyrod went to a team with an opportunity where he could become a starting quarterback. The amazing thing is he shows up and we had three quarterbacks. We had EJ Manuel who was the incumbent. We traded for Matt Cassel to basically be the starting quarterback. It was like, 'Tyrod, I promise you I'll give you a chance.' And he bet on himself and won the job."
The Ravens made a competitive offer to retain Taylor during the 2015 free agency period but the one thing they couldn't offer him was an opportunity to compete for the starting job.
"There's no bad terms between me and Baltimore," Taylor said. "I'm thankful for the opportunity that Ozzie Newsome, Coach Harbaugh and [owner Steve Bisciotti] gave me as far as a guy coming out of college, getting a chance to play there. I'm, definitely thankful for the opportunity, but I was able to get an opportunity here in Buffalo for a chance to compete. I'm excited to go back and play against those guys."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh told Buffalo-area reporters on a conference call Wednesday that he would have kept Taylor "forever."
"He has made himself into an NFL quarterback," Harbaugh said of Taylor. "His quarterback rating last year was very high. He did it with his legs, certainly, but that is not to take away what from what he has done with his arm and his mind. He operates an offense extremely well. He manages the game very well. He is an accurate thrower. He makes good decisions. The added element of the fact that is he is probably one of the best athletes in the game just makes him a real weapon."
The Ravens insist they weren't surprised by Taylor's success in his first year as a starter, but many others around the league were. In leading the Bills to victories in eight of his 14 starts, Taylor completed 63.7 percent of his passes, threw for 3,035 yards, tossed 20 touchdown passes compared to just six interceptions, and rushed for 568 yards and four touchdowns. His 99.4 quarterback rating was the second best in franchise history.
If the lucrative contract extension is any indication, Buffalo clearly believes Taylor is only going to get better.
"I was just hoping a guy like that would get a shot," Flacco said. "I didn't have a doubt in the world that when he did he would make the most of it. I was just hoping that he would eventually do it. Buffalo gave him that shot. He went in there prepared and won over everybody in that building. He's playing the way that I would expect him to play."
Flacco and Taylor became extremely close during their time together in Baltimore. Taylor's laid-back personality made him a favorite in the locker room and also a good sounding board for Flacco. The two leaned on each other to work through a stretch where they had three offensive coordinators in as many years.
Taylor reached out to Flacco immediately upon hearing about the Ravens quarterback's left knee injury last season. To his surprise, Flacco got right back to him. Now, less than 10 months later, the two quarterbacks will be on opposite sides of the field, fulfilling a scenario they joked about for four years.