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Taylor’s leadership inspires loyal following

Tyrod Taylor throws one of the best deep balls in football. But he’ll rarely go deep in front of a microphone. Unlike his head coach, Taylor prefers to maintain a flat public persona. He’s not one for joking around or betraying his emotions.

But the Bills’ quarterback couldn’t lie when I asked if he had been angry with himself after the loss to New England two weeks ago, a game in which he played poorly on the national TV stage.

“Yes,” Taylor said Sunday after the Bills beat the Texans, 30-21, at The Ralph. “Very.”

Taylor added the “very” part after a pause, as if he had already revealed too much. The Pats game, which renewed doubts about his worthiness as a franchise quarterback, had clearly bothered him.

So Taylor did the only thing he knew how after that game. He went back to work, back to his playbook, back to the difficult task of becoming a better NFL quarterback and leader. These past two weeks have been his answer to the critics, myself included, who have doubts about him as a franchise quarterback.

In a loss at K.C., Taylor had three TD passes and no interceptions against a Chiefs team that had allowed just three TD throws in its previous four games combined. After the loss, Taylor went around the Bills’ locker room, urging his discouraged teammates not to lose hope and to come back even stronger.

He showed the way during the week in the meeting rooms and on the practice field. Ryan said Taylor’s practice on Thursday might have been the best he had ever witnessed by a quarterback.

“We probably threw the ball 60 times in the practice and he had one missed throw,” Ryan said. “That’s what you’re seeing now. He’s just doing a tremendous job, and the confidence our team has in him is just way up there.”

The offensive players have sworn their belief in Taylor from back in training camp. Their faith will continue to grow after Sunday’s win, in which Taylor threw for three touchdowns, ran for a fourth, and didn’t turn the ball over in a game his team desperately needed to stay alive in the AFC playoff race.

Taylor wasn’t asked to fling the football all over the yard. He was a modest 11 for 21 passing for 211 yards. His coaches will take that 10 yards per attempt anytime. It was the sixth time Taylor has attempted fewer than 30 passes a game this season and the Bills are 6-0 in those games.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who had a very nice day, likes that formula. He wants to run the ball and make big plays in the passing game. The Bills rushed 36 times for 187 yards. Put it all together and the Bills had a very impressive 6.7 yards per offensive play against the Texans.

Houston, led by superstar defensive end J.J. Watt, came in as the hottest defense in the league. The Texans had allowed only two touchdowns in their last 18 quarters. A week earlier, they had become the first team in 10 years to hold Drew Brees and the Saints without a touchdown.

Taylor accounted for three TDs in the first two quarters Sunday. He threaded a 3-yard TD pass to Sammy Watkins to give the Bills a 7-0 lead on their opening possesion. On the first play of the second quarter, he skittered around left end for an 8-yard TD, diving to get the ball inside the orange cone.

Late in the second quarter, Taylor dropped back on first down and heaved a 53-yard bomb to Watkins down the middle of the field. On third and 4 at the Texans’ 12, he kept the ball and followed Richie Incognito for 6 yards and a first. Three plays later, he hit Robert Woods for a 2-yard TD.

“Ty is just starting to trust us and put the ball in the air and let us make a play on it,” said Watkins, who had three catches for 109 yards, giving him consecutive 100-yard receiving games for the first time since late October of last season.

“I just tell him, throw it as far as you can and I’m going to go get it,” Watkins said. “That’s what he’s been doing. He’s been looking the safety off, doing great with following through his reads and really just launching the ball and giving us a chance.”

Watkins gives his QB a little too much credit. Taylor is still too much of a one-read QB at times, locking in on one side of the field. But he’s getting better, and it’s not so bad to stick with your first read when it’s Watkins blazing downfield behind one or two hapless defenders.

This week, Taylor didn’t abandon Watkins after halftime, either. Late in the third quarter, he fired another perfect bomb to Watkins, this one down the right sideline for 53 yards. Dan Carpenter missed a 50-yard field goal, but the throw extricated the Bills from deep in their own territory.

Taylor had one more big throw in him. Things were getting a tad hairy after the Texans rallied to tie, 21-21, midway through the fourth quarter. Throughout the far-flung Bills Nation, I could imagine hardened fans dreading another collapse at The Ralph.

They averted disaster when Taylor’s weak third-down pass was nearly picked off by Houston safety Andre Hal, who might have had clear sailing for a pick-six. That kept alive Taylor’s team record for consecutive passes without an interception, which now stands at 187 in a row.

The Bills got the ball back with 2:33 to go, and this time Taylor took advantage. After LeSean McCoy popped a 20-yard run on second and 8, Taylor found Charles Clay wide open down the middle of the field and hit Clay with a 40-yard touchdown pass to snap the tie and give the Bills the win.

“It was a great call,” Taylor said. “Mully,” tight end Matthew Mulligan, “did a great job of clearing out the safety. We had actually called the play early in the game, but didn’t have a chance to connect on it. Clay did a good job of running his route and staying on course, and the linemen did a great job protecting as they did all game. Big play for us.”

Big win, too. It’s not time for any parades, but this was a crucial win for the Bills, coming against an AFC foe in direct competition for a playoff spot. They’re 6-6, tied with the Texans but ahead on the tiebreaker. They’re 6-5 in conference games (they were 4-7 after 11 AFC games a year ago), which could come in handy if they go 3-1 down the stretch.

“We need to learn from this game,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t perfect by any means. There’s a lot of things we can clean up on offense and as a team. I know we’re down a couple guys being injured, but whoever steps in, we have confidence in those guys.”

As Ryan said, Taylor’s teammates have a strong belief in him. He’s still a work in progress, but if he builds on these last two weeks and keeps the Bills in the playoff hunt, he’ll have a persuasive case for himself as the franchise guy. If he fails, it won’t be for a lack of will and effort.

“Tyrod is a guy who works extremely hard,” Clay said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with the work ethic that guy has. So it doesn’t come as any surprise when he plays well. I see the way he works, I see the way he studies, I see him lift weights. So whenever he plays a game like that, it doesn’t surprise me at all.”