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Taylor must learn to play from pocket

Column as I see ’em, Week 16:

• No, I’m still not sold on Tyrod Taylor as a franchise quarterback. But he might be the most dynamic athlete in the NFL, a rare blend of speed and arm strength, the closest thing to a young Michael Vick in today’s game. Taylor is one tough customer, too.

There were at least half a dozen occasions during Sunday’s win when Tyrod got tackled at the end of a run and I thought to myself, “I’m not sure he’s going to get up from this one.”

But Taylor kept darting around The Ralph and making plays, including a remarkable 7-yard scramble from deep in his own end to keep alive a late drive that led to Mike Gillislee’s clinching 50-yard touchdown run.

Taylor finished with 14 runs for 67 yards, breaking Doug Flutie’s season record for rushing yards by a quarterback along the way. He was 13 of 18 passing and was sacked three times, which means he wound up on the ground almost as many times as he threw the football.

That’s too much, and the Bills know it. It was the second time this season that an NFL quarterback had 10 or more rushes and fewer than 20 pass attempts in a game. The other QB to do it? Taylor, when he ran 10 times and went 11-for-12 passing in a home win over the Dolphins.

It’s exciting and can help win games, but it’s not a sustainable model in today’s NFL. Cam Newton and Russell Wilson are proving that running QBs can win big, but both have become effective pocket passers who run judiciously and know how to protect themselves.

Rex Ryan said Monday that 14 rushes was too much for Taylor. Eric Wood said the same thing after the game.

“Yeah, we don’t want Ty taking shots,” Wood said. “We continually talk to him” about sliding. “He says it’s not really in his nature. I said, ‘Well, we’re going to make it your nature this offseason.’ ”

Taylor laughed when his veteran center’s comments were relayed to him later Sunday.

“Me and Eric Wood have this conversation every day,” he said. “That’s something that I’ll work on – learning how to get down and protecting my body more. But it’s part of my game. I don’t play scared. I’m a tough guy, so I can take those hits.”

There’s an inherent risk, though. Taylor sprained his knee on a big run late in the win at Tennessee. That caused him to miss two games, both of which the Bills lost. A franchise quarterback needs to stay on the field by avoiding the extra hits that can cause injury.

“We want him to be the long-term solution at the spot,” Ryan said, “so he has got to learn to protect himself and understand that we need him to be that.”

Taylor can’t be so quick to leave the pocket and run. He must learn to hang in and go through his reads. It’s a passing league these days. A quarterback has to make all the throws and win mainly with his arm. His legs are a dangerous, but secondary weapon.

Until Taylor proves he can be that kind of QB, the Bills can’t be certain they have their long-term answer at the position. That’s why they need to think seriously about taking a quarterback high in the next NFL draft.

• I understand that Peyton Manning is furious about an Al Jazeera report that he bought human growth hormone (HGH) from a doctor at an Indiana anti-aging clinic during his recovery from a neck injury in 2011.

The former intern whose allegations were secretly recorded for the documentary has recanted his claim that HGH was mailed to Manning’s wife. Manning has called the report “complete garbage” and hired former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to issue a separate denial.

But I’ve heard too many athletes passionately deny using performance-enhancing drugs to dismiss any report out of hand. The thought of Manning using HGH when his NFL future was in doubt is certainly plausible. And his explanations about his – and his wife’s – involvement with the Guyer Clinic are a bit fuzzy. Something tells me this story isn’t going away soon.

Mike Ditka leaped to protect Manning and the NFL shield, asserting that Al Jazeera “is not a credible news organization.” Ditka ought to get his head out of the sports section. Al Jazeera is a well-regarded news group, considered the Middle East’s version of CNN.

• Ryan Fitzpatrick has one overriding goal in Sunday’s regular-season finale at The Ralph – getting to the playoffs for the first time in his 11-year career. But the former Bills quarterback has a couple of statistical milestones to shoot for, too.

Fitz threw three TD passes in Sunday’s overtime win over the Patriots, tying him for the Jets’ single-season record of 29. Vinny Testaverde set the record in 1998. It’s hard to believe, but Joe Namath’s high was 26 (in 1967) and he threw more than 20 TDs in a season just once.

Fitzpatrick, who is playing for his sixth team, has 3,724 yards passing, which is 108 yards shy of his career high of 3,832 set with the Bills in 2011. His interception rate (2.3) is the lowest of his career. His 10 wins as a starter are four more than he had in any other season.

This is the first year Fitz will finish with a winning record as a starter. He went 6-6 last season for a Texans team that finished 9-7 overall.

• Bills wideout Sammy Watkins has 49 receptions for 911 yards, leaving him 71 yards shy of his rookie yardage total and 89 short of his first 1,000-yard season. Among players with at least 35 catches, he has the best average per gain (18.6) in the league.

Over the last five weeks, Watkins has 543 receiving yards and six TDs. That’s more yards over that span than Atlanta’s Julio Jones or Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, who rank 1-2 in the NFL in receiving yards entering the final week of the season. Jones has 1,722 yards, Brown 1,647.

• Fitzpatrick isn’t the only Jets veteran looking to sew up his first playoff berth here next Sunday. Brandon Marshall is in his 10th NFL season. He has gained 1,000 yards in a season for four different teams. But he’s yet to appear in a postseason game.

Marshall had eight catches for 115 yards and two TDs against the Pats. That gave him 101 receptions for 1,376 yards and a career-high 13 TDs. He broke Al Toon’s record for catches in a season and became the first player in NFL history with six seasons of 100 or more receptions. Jerry Rice did it four times.

• How amazing has Mike Gillislee been for the Bills? He has 23 carries for 239 yards, an average of 10.4 yards a carry. Gillislee could become the first NFL running back to rush for at least 200 yards and average 10 yards a carry in 70 years. No one has done it since Ernie Steele finished with 20 carries for 212 yards for the 1945 Philadelphia Eagles. You remember Ernie.

• Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles has thrown 35 TD passes, well beyond the previous Jags record of 23 set by David Garrard in 2010. Bortles has thrown for 4,181 and can break the record of 4,367 established by Mark Brunell in 1996. His lowest passing yardage in a game this year came against the Bills in London, when Bortles passed for 182 yards in a 34-31 win.

• Ben Roethlisberger had no TD passes and two interceptions Sunday against a Baltimore defense that came into the game with 28 TD passes allowed and four picks. Big Ben also had a 100-yard pick six called back by a penalty. I’m guessing his fantasy owners weren’t amused.