When it came time to pick his starting quarterback last summer, Bills coach Rex Ryan insisted Tyrod Taylor was just as effective a passer as he was a runner.
Some three months later, and with Buffalo in jeopardy of fading out of the AFC playoff race, Taylor put his dual-threat ability on display by staring down the Houston Texans and their J.J. Watt-led defense. The first-year starter threw three touchdown passes — including a 40-yarder to Charles Clay with 1:53 left — and scored another rushing to secure a 30-21 victory Sunday.
“I think he’s legit,” Ryan said afterward. “I think he’s real. And people are starting to realize that.”
Taylor completed 11 of 21 attempts for 211 yards, was sacked just once and added 28 yards rushing. He showed little fear in throwing into double coverage, completing a pair of 53-yard passes to Sammy Watkins. And Taylor played with poise in finding Clay running down the field wide open for the game-deciding touchdown.
Facing second-and-7, Taylor found Clay running alone over the middle as both Texans defenders shaded their coverage toward backup tight end Matthew Mulligan along the right sideline.
“He just keeps on getting better and better,” said Ryan, who held his breath when seeing Clay open. “I was just, please don’t miss the layup.”
The Bills (6-6), who never trailed, snapped a two-game skid and gained ground in the playoff picture by beating a Texans team that entered ahead of them in the standings.
Houston dropped to 6-6 and had a four-game winning streak snapped.
“What I told the team was, `Look, we have to do better,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “It starts with me. We’ve got to do a better job. But we’ve got to quickly turn the page.”
The Texans defense sagged and its Watt-led pass rush was rendered ineffective by several misdirections and running back LeSean McCoy’s ability to beat defenders to the sideline.
The Bills managed 390 yards against a defense that had given up an average of 250 over its past four games.
And Watt was essentially left grabbing at air. Entering the game with an NFL-leading 13.5 sacks, Watt was limited to four tackles, and had his one sack negated by offsetting penalties.
Watt acknowledged Taylor’s scrambling ability made it difficult to catch him.
“A little bit,” Watt said. “We just need to play better. We need to execute better. We need to do our jobs better.”
The Texans’ offense also lacked consistency.
Brian Hoyer finished 26 of 44 for 293 yards with three touchdowns but was unable to deliver in the clutch. Hoyer threw four consecutive incompletions on the Texans’ drive after Clay’s touchdown.
The Bills took over and Carpenter secured the win with a 36-yard field goal with 33 seconds remaining. Carpenter otherwise struggled, missing a 50-yard field goal attempt and an extra point.
McCoy had 112 yards rushing. Watkins had 109 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Taylor signed with the Bills as a free agent in March after spending his first four NFL seasons as Joe Flacco’s backup in Baltimore. Taylor is 6-4 and already holds several team records.
He set a single-game mark for quarterbacks with 76 yards rushing in a 14-13 win over Tennessee on Oct. 11.
Against the Texans, Taylor extended his streak to 187 attempts without an interception and broke the franchise record of 175 that was set by Drew Bledsoe in 2002. He has combined for 15 touchdowns — including two rushing — with one interception and one last fumble in his past eight starts.
“He is our leader. He is our quarterback,” Watkins said. “He is just getting better every week with leading this team.”