Opinion: Amid persistent doubt, Josh Allen rises to occasion for Bills in crucial win vs. Patriots

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Josh Allen needed this.

Of course, the Buffalo Bills needed Sunday’s 33-21 win over the New England Patriots, which restored them as leaders of the AFC East with just two weeks left in the regular season.

Of course, Sean McDermott needed this win, especially after getting outcoached by Bill Belichick three weeks ago when the Patriots came to Buffalo and gashed the Bills for 222 rushing yards, attempting only three passes in that victory.

Of course, Buffalo’s defense needed Sunday’s redemptive performance, which saw the unit record two takeaways and deny New England on nine of 10 third down conversions.

But Allen most definitely needed Sunday’s triumphant performance as he put his team on his back, passing for 314 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another 64 yards on 12 carries.

As the face of the franchise who this offseason signed a six-year, $258 million contract with $150 million guaranteed, and a player regarded as one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, Allen had to deliver just like that. These late-season, divisional showdowns are where that money should be earned and where legacies are written.

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Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) runs with the ball while evading tackles by New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) and inside linebacker Jamie Collins (58) during the second half at Gillette Stadium.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) runs with the ball while evading tackles by New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) and inside linebacker Jamie Collins (58) during the second half at Gillette Stadium.

No one has ever questioned Allen’s arm strength and passing ability. He just became the first Bills player to record consecutive 4,000-yard passing campaigns.

No one will ever deny his athleticism or versatility he displays in his ability to tuck the ball, put his head down and run for tough yards.

But in terms of consistency in clutch situations, Allen has always had his doubters across the league.

“Streaky” is a term opposing talent evaluators often use to describe him. And although the Bills made their commitment to Allen clear with the big pay day they gave him this August, many in the NFL have continued to watch and wonder about his capabilities in high-pressure situations.

Sunday, the quarterback found himself in one of those scenarios as he entered a hostile environment and readied for what was essentially a must-win game. (A loss would have placed New England one step away from clinching the division while putting Buffalo at risk of falling out of the final wild-card spot.)

And to make matters worse, he would play behind a patchwork offensive line and be without some key weapons, as wide receivers Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis sat out on the COVID-19 reserve list.

But Allen delivered with a wire-to-wire type of performance that paved the way for victory and enabled him to take another big step toward affirming his worthiness as one of the highest-paid players in the league.

Allen took the field after the opening kick and marched the Bills downfield with a 13-play, 61-yard scoring drive that he capped with a touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie to give his team an early lead.

That drive was important because not only do the Bills operate more effectively when playing from ahead, but the Patriots and young quarterback Mac Jones encounter struggles when having to play from behind.

Allen was determined that he would put his team up early because of these factors, and he delivered.

From there, he directed five more scoring drives – Buffalo never punted and ended each half with the ball –while converting six of 12 third downs and three of four fourth-down attempts.

Allen may have been at his best in the fourth quarter, after New England had cut the Buffalo lead to 26-21 with 7:37 left.

Faced with a fourth-and-1 with just more than four minutes remaining, Allen rolled to his left, made two defenders miss and ran for 8 yards to pick up the first down and keep the clock running.

Three plays later, on third-and-10, he returned to his bag of tricks and flipped a back-handed shovel pass to Stefon Diggs to extend the drive. And two plays after that, Allen again rolled to his left and flipped a backhanded pass to tight end Dawson Knox for a touchdown that put the game out of reach at 33-21 with 2:24 left.

That’s the type of play Allen should be delivering, given his physical traits, flashes of potential and his paycheck.

And it’s the type of play that the Bills have always known he was capable of and counted on him to deliver on Sunday.

“That guy is unbelievable, and he deserves all the accolades and stuff you throw on him, because he's the real deal and works so hard,” Buffalo defensive lineman Harrison Phillips said after the game. “This is his life. We trust the ball in his hands when the game is on the line whatever it is. In 1-7 we trust.”

As offensive tackle Dion Dawkins put it, “Josh makes a quarter of a billion dollars. Josh is worth every penny of what he is. I say that jokingly, but Josh is one of those guys who cares about his teammates and he’s an over-competitor. The media and people talk, but Josh keeps his head down and performs. I wouldn't have expected anything else.

"Before the game, we could hear the fire in his voice about what was about to happen, and you know when that happens, be ready for a show.”

Allen displayed his ability to respond in a high-pressure situation on Sunday, but that’s because he understood all week what was at stake and how heavily the Bills' hopes depended on his performance.

McDermott said the quarterback carried himself with an added sense of urgency in practice as he tried to best prepare himself for the daunting task of defeating New England in the Patriots' home stadium.

The attention to detail and intense focus paid off as Allen came through on Sunday and placed a Bills team that had lost five of its last nine games back in the AFC East driver's seat with a performance and victory that should propel them further as the regular season winds down and the playoffs kick off in three weeks.

“We have to finish,” Allen said. “Starts off with our next game and that’s all we can focus on.”

Allen and the Bills close out the season with home games against the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins and now have a good chance to host an opening-round playoff game.

After falling short in last season’s AFC championship game against rival Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, Allen would like to take his team a step or two further this year.

That will require a strong finish to the season, and more heroics like he delivered on Sunday.

As he dealt the Patriots a blow with the victory, Allen proved himself capable of responding in high-pressure situations. To reach Buffalo’s goals, he must continue to build and play with a consistency that the Bills view him as capable of delivering.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Josh Allen delivers for Buffalo Bills in key win over Patriots