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Shortly after the Buffalo Bills’ thrilling win over the Los Angeles Rams came to a close Sunday afternoon, the Fox cameras caught Josh Allen breathing deeply, mouth open ever so slightly, while walking off the field. It was almost as if Allen was exhaling in relief.
It was the way you breathe after riding a roller coaster, one where you were terrified for a quarter of it and pumped for the other three quarters of it. The Bills’ 35-32 victory over the Rams couldn’t have been a more fitting example of The Josh Allen Experience, especially given the ups and downs Buffalo’s quarterback put Western New York through over the course of the three-hour contest where the Bills blew a 25-point lead before rallying late.
“I would just say we have some competitive dogs in our locker room, and I can’t say enough about one-seven [Allen],” said Bills tight end Tyler Kroft, who was on the receiving end of the winning touchdown pass from Allen. “Josh is competitive as hell. He’s going to make sure we’re in position to win, and you see it out there. He’s trying to stiff-arm four dudes and still throw the ball downfield.”
All of which makes Allen fun as hell to watch. He was noticeable in 2018, his rookie year, when he was making throws — and generally making plays — that only the most talented quarterbacks, including Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, could make.
And seeing how Mahomes’ penchant for the impossible always seemed to energize his teammates and made them believe in the impossible, I’ve come to appreciate that greatly. This is especially true when the calendar turns to January, defenses get better and quarterbacks have to will their teams to victory as the margin for error gets smaller.
Josh Allen flashes arm strength, but also miscues
So when Allen broke out last season, leading the Bills on a playoff run while emerging as an early stage, more error-prone version of Cam Newton, I wasn’t surprised. From a skill standpoint, Allen is among the NFL’s most physically gifted quarterbacks. His stunning combination of size (6-foot-5, 240-plus pounds) and athleticism (4.63 speed) is paired with perhaps the strongest arm in the league.
“His ability to extend plays is one of his elite traits, and [he keeps his] eyes down the field,” said Rams coach Sean McVay, who watched Allen rip up his defense for 311 yards and four touchdowns Sunday.
As such, Allen led the Bills to four fourth-quarter comebacks and five winning drives last season, each tied for the most in the NFL. And on Sunday, he added another notch to each of those columns for the second straight week.
“When Josh is back there, we’re all live,” Kroft said. “You don’t know where that ball is going, so you’ve got to make sure you win your one-on-one.”
Allen’s greatest talent is his improvisational ability. His refusal to let a play die is Ben Roethlisberger-esque. It’s the very thing that will give him a chance to go blow-for-blow with the best of the best when the 3-0 Bills make the playoffs. But his penchant for making a handful of baffling plays per game remains a significant concern. It’s one that he better eliminate if he wants to take the well-coached Bills on a deep postseason run.
“I put the ball in harm’s way too many times,” admitted Allen, who threw an interception, lost a fumble and was whistled for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty during the midst of the near-collapse. “I lost my cool, I cost us 15 yards, they went down and scored on that drive and I can’t do that to our defense. So a lot of things to learn from on this one.”
While the Rams proved they have the heart of a contender by rallying from a 28-3 third-quarter deficit to take a 32-28 lead, the Bills — and Allen — proved they do, too, all by refusing to crumble under the threat of a historic collapse. Buffalo was borderline dominant, doing what it wanted offensively and shutting down one of the league’s most explosive offenses to jump out to that big lead.
Then came the miscues. First, an Allen interception that happened when he eluded the rush, turning his back to the defense and uncorked a missile to Kroft, his 6-5 target, who had it taken from him when he landed by 6-foot John Johnson III. I wouldn’t blame Allen for that; it was a reasonable gamble, one that came with the Bills leading 28-10.
The same can’t be said for his fumble later in the game, which came with Buffalo nursing a three-point lead.
Granted, Aaron Donald forced the sack and whipped Allen to the ground. Allen cannot fumble in that instance the way he did, regardless of the circumstances (it was third-and-22), especially since Allen, who has a tendency to hold the ball in one hand, had already fumbled twice this season.
Allen’s ensuing penalty on the play, which came for arguing with the refs, was most unacceptable, as it was followed by a score that put Buffalo in the 32-28 hole.
“I thought one thing and they thought a different thing, and I can’t talk to the refs like that. I need to understand that,” Allen explained. “I apologize to those guys, they’re working their tail off out here, too, and appreciate what they’re doing. I’ve got to be respectful in that situation and I was just frustrated with how we were playing and how I was playing, so I have to do better on that.”
Allen’s inspirational play could portend deep playoff run
Allen’s ability to do the spectacular makes him very easy to forgive. Like when the Bills got the ball back with four minutes left, and he promptly converted a third-and-22. He sprayed a missile over the middle — while running to his right, no less — to Cole Beasley for a 23-yard gain. It was outrageous, and exactly the kind of throw a QB has to make in the playoffs.
Then again, so was his throw on third-and-25 a few plays later, where instead of going for the spectacular, he took a chunk gain to Beasley over the middle to set up a fourth-and-9.
“I wasn’t trying to do too much, I wasn’t going for the end zone every single play where, in maybe past years, I would have,” Allen said.
And sure, the Bills caught a break on the next play when Rams corner Darious Williams jammed Gabriel Davis too long and was whistled for pass interference as Allen’s fourth-down pass sailed incomplete. You need breaks to win in the playoffs, too, and Allen played his part by immediately throwing the winning touchdown to complete yet another comeback.
“The guys play for him,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said.
And they’ll continue to do it, all the way up into the playoffs, when the pressure increases and the same mistakes he’s making now will be punished more harshly due to the caliber of competition. Sorry, but we must acknowledge these flaws despite Allen’s sterling 71.1 completion percentage, 10-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 124.8 passer rating.
The good news for Bills fans is that Allen, who is his own harshest critic, knows it.
“I’ve got to be better for our team and our offense,” Allen said. “I’ve got to find ways to get the ball moving and get past the sticks.”
When asked why he seems to be able to mount so many comebacks, Allen provided a clue to why you shouldn’t bet against him.
“I just want it,” Allen said, “more than anything.”
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