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Taylor proves he’s the real deal at QB

Tyrod Taylor is well past the “who-is-this-guy” phase of his development as the Buffalo Bills’ quarterback. He has soared far beyond the “can-he-be-more-than-a-runner” narrative as well. The how-well-will-he-function-in-the-pocket” talk? That’s quickly fading into the rearview mirror, too.

After the first three starts of his NFL career, Taylor very much looks the part of a quarterback capable of consistently having big performances with his passing arm while still being a constant threat for long runs.

That’s the sort of combination that has helped teams reach and/or win Super Bowls. Just ask the Seattle Seahawks.

A huge day through the air could very well be in store for Taylor when the Bills face the New York Giants, who have already allowed an NFL-worst 1,007 passing yards, Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

“He’s blowing me away,” wide receiver Percy Harvin said Wednesday.

Harvin is hardly alone with that sentiment.

“It seems like every single game he gets more and more comfortable, whether it’s in the pocket, on the run,” wide receiver Chris Hogan said of Taylor. “So every game he’s made plays with his feet and he’s made plays with his arm. He’s got a really good arm and he’s able to put the ball, it seems like, wherever he wants right now.”

Taylor arrived in Buffalo as a free-agent mystery. After four seasons of backing up Joe Flacco in Baltimore and rarely seeing the field, all that was really known about him was that, at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, he was relatively small and exceptionally fast.

He isn’t a mystery anymore.

If that beautifully thrown rainbow to Harvin for a 51-yard touchdown in the season-opening victory against Indianapolis didn’t prove that Taylor could do much more than run, his efforts to help the Bills swiftly close a 24-point gap in the fourth quarter of their 40-32 loss against New England a week later certainly did.

“I was really impressed how he came back in the Patriots’ game,” Harvin said. “I think our offense started clicking in that second half coming back. And then it rolled over into last week’s game.”

That would be the 41-14 humiliation of the Miami Dolphins, Taylor’s most complete game as a pro. Maybe those lofty preseason expectations that some held for the Dolphins were grossly misplaced. Maybe their players don’t like playing for their coach and are doing their best to get him fired. Maybe their defense, which includes Ndamukong Suh (a.k.a. the $114-million man), was just having an off day.

It didn’t matter. Taylor and his teammates smelled blood in the water and devoured their prey in a few quick bites. He calmly worked every inch of a smartly devised moving pocket to complete 21 of 29 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions to register a passer rating of 136.7.

“Like I’ve said from Day One, I’ve been confident in my ability,” Taylor said. “But it’s never just about me. I’m definitely steadily growing, learning each and every day. And the goal is to get better each and every day, learn from your mistakes and continue to move forward.”

With 714 passing yards and seven scoring throws to three interceptions (all against the Patriots), he has the NFL’s fifth-best passer rating of 116.1. Taylor’s 96 rushing yards also have contributed significantly to the Bills having the league’s top-ranked run game. There was one run against Miami that resulted in Taylor’s foot getting caught in the Sun Life Stadium grass as he slid and twisting awkwardly, which resulted in an injured ankle. He finished the game, and was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice.

It is such plays that will always be a concern, because they increase Taylor’s exposure to injury. Yet they also provide a dimension that enhances his overall impact.

“When you move the pocket with a guy like that, obviously it’s a good thing, it’s easier to see,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “You also have to be very aware” as a defense, “because he can tuck it and run. That really is a legitimate threat. But I was more impressed with how he managed the pocket than I was with even those things.”

When you look for the primary reasons the Bills are averaging more than 33 points per game, you don’t start with their biggest offseason offensive investment, $16-million running back LeSean McCoy. He has been hobbled by a hamstring injury and probably won’t play Sunday. You don’t start with Sammy Watkins, either. The receiver is dealing with yet another injury – this time to his calf – that will likely sideline him as well.

You start with Taylor and his ability to effectively execute the game plans of offensive coordinator Greg Roman that maximize every available target: Harvin, Robert Woods, tight end Charles Clay, running back Karlos Williams, and Hogan. Taylor’s long throws tend to fall perfectly into the waiting arms of his receivers. His shorter ones, such as those he delivered on the crossing routes the Bills ran so well against the Dolphins, have pinpoint accuracy and just the right velocity to hit the pass-catcher in stride.

“He’s able to drop it in there when he needs to drop it in there with the deep balls,” said Hogan, who caught one for a 38-yard touchdown last Sunday. “He’s been really on point with that kind of stuff. Obviously, we always harp on being able to stretch down the field, just because we have a lot of speed on the outside. And with the timing and everything, he’s able to put the ball out there and let us run underneath it.

“You could see last week we had a lot of those crossers. Those require a decent amount of touch. You can’t really just throw it out there. He’s got to throw it over linebackers, safeties, whatever it is.”

Ryan doesn’t even try to pretend that he, Roman, and quarterbacks coach David Lee knew all along that Taylor would be this good this fast. He points out that the quarterback battle that included Matt Cassel, who was traded to Dallas last week, and EJ Manuel was even to the very end.

Taylor clearly made the most dynamic plays in three preseason games, but how he would perform against front-line defenses game-planning against him was anyone’s guess.

“He’s obviously what we were hoping that we got,” Ryan said. “This is a guy that’s smart, so he can manage the game, but he’s way more than that.”

Each week, there is increasing evidence that backs that up. Not just from the throwing or the running.

Taylor is rapidly taking command of the offense, which goes well beyond physical prowess and answers one of the major questions facing a quarterback who entered the season with zero NFL starts.

“The communication between us – the receivers, tight ends and running backs – he works on that and I think it shows during the game, our trust in him,” Hogan said. “He’s a leader out there, so we’re following his orders.”


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