EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As the longest-tenured Giants player, Sterling Shepard has seen his share of in-season quarterback changes. The eight-year veteran is the only member of the current roster who was with the team for the most significant switch of all, the 2017 end of Eli Manning's consecutive starting streak after 210 games. Geno Smith started one game before Manning was re-installed by interim coach Steve Spagnuolo.
"That was a painful week, man," Shepard said. "It was pretty awkward. You are talking about a guy that has never missed a game in his whole career and messing up that streak. That's a tough one."
Nothing that momentous occurred this week, but the Giants still made an injury-induced change at the game's most important position. Tyrod Taylor will start for the Giants Sunday night in Buffalo for Daniel Jones, who will be inactive because of the neck injury he suffered last week in Miami.
How have the Giants normally reacted to the promotion of a backup quarterback?
"It always depends on who it is," Shepard said.
Many players wondered if the team could succeed when Jones went down in 2020 and was replaced by Colt McCoy (who went 1-1) and in 2021, when Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm were a combined 0-6. The current Giants are much more positive with the 34-year-old Taylor throwing the ball.
"When you got Tyrod back there, you feel confident about it," Shepard said. "It's a guy that's played a lot of football, started on a lot of teams in this league, and definitely plays with confidence. Whenever you have a guy like that, that's going to play with confidence and you know it, and you've seen it at practice, then it gives you confidence going into the game, too."
The defensive players agree with that sentiment.
"Our confidence in Tyrod is extremely high," linebacker Bobby Okereke said. "Ever since OTAs, we've all seen Tyrod be the first guy in the building. The way he handles himself, he's such a pro. He's got a confidence about him that I think uplifts people. Everybody's excited for this opportunity."
"That's my guy," cornerback Adoree' Jackson said. "Obviously, been seeing him and knowing of him since he was playing at VT (Virginia Tech). Then seeing him in the league and the different things that he's done; cool kid and people don't know, he's a Super Bowl (with Baltimore in 2012) champ. Just a talented guy, very poised, he's very calm. When he gets the opportunity, he always makes the most of it. I think everybody in here would be excited and has confidence in Tyrod, because we know what he can do. When it's Daniel playing, we have our service quarterback who usually is Tyrod, and you see the things that he can do and things he can display. I'm just excited for him and his opportunity that he's going to get."
View photos of the Giants on the practice field ahead of the Week 6 matchup against the Buffalo Bills.
Taylor will face a formidable collection of challenges. He will play behind an offensive line that has allowed 30 sacks and whose starting five was unknown when the Giants finished practice yesterday. Star running back Saquon Barkley is questionable because of an ankle injury and his effectiveness will be a mystery after missing three weeks. The Giants are last in the league with an average of 255.2 yards a game and it's a big ask of any backup quarterback to lift a struggling unit.
And then there's Highmark Stadium. The good news is Taylor has played 22 games there, 13 more than any other NFL venue. He has thrown 28 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions there. But he also knows Highmark is one of the NFL's loudest stadiums, one that is extremely inhospitable to visiting teams, particularly in a prime-time game.
"It's going to be an electric atmosphere," said Taylor, who will make his first career Sunday night start. "Obviously, their fan base is one of the wilder ones, I guess they've been labeled as it. They create a great environment for football. Communication has got to be at its best when you're going into an environment like this, but as a player, I think you live for these types of environments and these types of moments."
Coach Brian Daboll grew up in the Buffalo area, went to Bills games as a youngster, and spent four seasons as the team's offensive coordinator. He knows exactly what to expect tomorrow night.
"It's an electric environment," he said. "They'll be going all day, getting ready for the game. It's loud. It's an unbelievable atmosphere. It's hard to hear. Been on the other side of it, too, when I was with the Patriots, the Dolphins and the Jets. And they have a fantastic team. You know they are one of the only two teams that are top five in points on offense and defense, the other team being San Francisco, so they are a great team, and their fans will be ready, they are loud. It's a loud environment."
The Giants are the fifth team for which Taylor has started. He has started 52 regular-season games, including 42 for the Bills from 2015-17. He was 22-20 with Buffalo and is 26-25-1 overall.
"As a competitor, any time you get a chance to go out and play, you always look forward to it," Taylor said. "It just so happens to be Buffalo this week. Obviously, I love to compete, so wherever that is, if it's this week, if it's another time, I look forward to those opportunities."
Taylor, like Jones, is a dual-threat quarterback. He has thrown for 10,886 yards and 60 touchdowns and run for an additional 2,087 yards and two scores. Taylor set a Bills record in 2015 by throwing 222 consecutive passes without an interception. This season, he has completed 11 of 15 passes for 92 yards.
Behind Taylor, the Giants will have rookie free agent Tommy DeVito, who has never taken a regular-season snap. But Taylor will not curtail his aggressiveness simply because he's the only healthy experienced quarterback.
"I don't think you've got to go into a game with that mindset," he said. "I think you play free. Obviously, it's a contact sport that we play and a collision sport that we play. Playing scared is never a good thing. Obviously, as a quarterback, you want to limit the hits that you take on your body, but at the same time, you've got to do what's best for the team in certain situations as far as fighting for extra yardage or making plays. Never playing timid, going out there and competing at a high level and dealing with what comes with that."