Jason Taylor returns to Miami the enemy
September, 24, 2010
By Tim Graham | ESPN.com
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireJason Taylor's sack of Tom Brady last week forced a fumble and effectively ended the game.Jason Taylor might have come back to South Florida as some amalgam of two personas, the Miami Dolphins icon searching for a new identity in a New York Jets costume.
Dolfans didn't quite know what to make of a traitorous community hero who thrilled them for a dozen years then jumped to the enemy.
Jets supporters weren't sure either. Alpha fan Fireman Ed blasted the decision to sign him. Taylor is the NFL's active sacks leader, but he had mocked the fans, their stadium, their J-E-T-S chant for years.
So what was he?
On his final play before returning to face the Dolphins, there was no more doubt.
After five months of image limbo, it took 2.8 seconds last weekend for Taylor to become a bona-fide Jet.
The Jets led the New England Patriots by two touchdowns with 4:15 to play at the New Meadowlands, but Tom Brady had a first down at the Jets' 16-yard line.
Brady took the shotgun snap. Taylor, at right end, bolted from his three-point stance like he was going to speed rush Patriots left tackle Matt Light. Running back Sammy Morris tried to chip block.
Taylor spun right 360 degrees to avoid Morris and saw "Brady" and "12" dead ahead. In a flash, that white-on-blue stitchwork was about all that separated Taylor from Brady's spine. The ball popped out, a vintage Taylor moment.
The Jets recovered the fumble while Taylor writhed on the field with a left elbow injury.
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireJason Taylor has recorded 124 of his 128.5 career sacks in a Dolphins uniform.
"That could probably be the symbolic play," Taylor said by phone Thursday from the team's facility in Florham Park, N.J. "I didn't hear them chanting my name when I was on the ground. I didn't hear that over the pain.
"But my wife told me later on 'Can you believe they were chanting your name?' "
The metamorphosis occurred just in time to give his old team something extra to think about.
Taylor still can be a game-changer.
"When I know the other guy on the other side and I know what he's capable of and the kind of career that the guy has had," said Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, "those kind of people keep me up at night.
"Jason's a game player. So I know what the guy's going to bring to the table when he gets out there. I know he's going to be excited to play. I would expect nothing but Jason Taylor's absolute best."
Taylor, after a lost 2008 season with the Washington Redskins, recorded seven sacks last year for the Dolphins, tied for second on the team. But his contract was up, and the Dolphins waited to re-sign him. The front office wasn't convinced Taylor could remain productive at 36 and wanted to explore younger options before committing to him for another year.
He felt strung along without any guarantees of a new contract, so he took up the Jets on their offer.
Taylor wanted to finish his career with the Dolphins, "but it didn't work out," he said on a conference call with South Florida reporters Wednesday. "The hardest part was just making that decision, just making that move initially, but all the while knowing in my heart of hearts I wasn't turning my back on anyone, but just I didn't have a home."
He insisted Sunday's game isn't about retribution or settling some kind of score with Miami's front office. But if the Jets were to win only one more game all year and Taylor got to pick, Sunday's game certainly would be his choice.
"I have a lot of friends on that team still, guys that mean a lot to me and I'm very close to," Taylor said. "At the end of the day, they're not going to take it easy on me and I'm going to try and make as many plays as I can. But there's no bitterness."
Taylor is playing more than the Jets intended when they signed him to be a situational pass-rusher. Top outside linebacker Calvin Pace has been out with a broken right foot. Pace had a team-leading eight sacks and 13 tackles for losses along with 16 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles last year despite missing the first four games because of a suspension.
Taylor isn't that kind of dynamic player anymore, but he showed with his game-sealing sack of Brady he still can give quarterbacks plenty to worry about, especially when the game is on the line.
"He's a closer," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "He's one of those guys. Great pass-rushers win games for you in the fourth quarter. He's got a history of that throughout his career that he's a guy that closes. Fourth-quarter sacks win games, and that was a huge one right there."
He has 128.5 career sacks, with all but 4.5 coming in a Dolphins uniform. His name will be in the team's Ring of Honor soon after he retires. He has sacked 66 different quarterbacks and would love to make ex-teammate Chad Henne his 67th victim. Of course, he'll need to figure out a way to get past Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long for that to happen.
Taylor claimed he hasn't been obsessed with playing the Dolphins.
The 2010 NFL schedule was released the day before Taylor signed his contract April 21. From the moment he signed his first Jets autograph, he knew he was going back to Sun Life Stadium on Sept. 26 to play the Dolphins.
"We only get 16 of these a year, and they're all so important," Taylor said. "I never got ahead, thinking about one more than the other, and this one's no different.
"I knew it was on the schedule. I knew it was coming up and I'd have to deal with it at some point, but I wasn't sitting around, waiting for it."
Taylor wouldn't let his family and friends talk about the game with him over the past five months. Now they can get excited about the game without hiding it. He doesn't have a luxury box at the stadium anymore, but he joked his wife Katina, the sister of former Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, "will be somewhere out there in a safe place."
The reason for that is because everybody who will be in Sun Life Stadium knows darn well who Taylor's playing for now.