In retrospect, it's amazing to think that the Buffalo Bills ever felt that Josh Allen wasn’t ready for the job, that he needed time — maybe a full season — to watch the NFL game before being trusted to take over as a franchise quarterback as a rookie.
Allen’s astonishing performance Sunday in Minnesota showed — as Baker Mayfield’s had in Cleveland three nights before — that the truly special ones simply need a chance to play, that they don’t learn by watching from the sidelines, but by doing it on the field.
Starting on the road for the first time, as a massive underdog against a putative Super Bowl favorite, Allen stole the show, thoroughly outplaying the league’s highest-paid quarterback on his own field in a 27-6 victory over the Vikings.
The Bills put on a show that stunned the football world, which had dismissed them a perhaps the NFL’s worst team and figured they would be lucky to get out of Minnesota without embarrassing themselves. Instead, it was the Vikings who were humiliated.
It’s hard to imagine a more shocking and unexpected performance. The Bills were a 16 1/2-point underdog, the largest betting line in a September NFL game in three years. Not only did they compete, they became the first team in 23 years to be an underdog of 16 points or more and win the game outright.
They entered the game as a national laughingstock. Head coach Sean McDermott was under siege for starting Nathan Peterman in the opener and taking away the play-calling duties from Leslie Frazier in the second game. Vontae Davis became a national punch line after retiring at halftime of the Chargers loss.
The Bills hadn’t scored a touchdown in the first half in their first two games, getting outscored 54-6. They were at or near the bottom in many defensive statistical categories. There was talk of a winless season, the prospect of the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Instead, they responded with one of the most inspiring wins in franchise history, a game that had to radically shift the perspective of their fans both for the present and the future. If breaking the playoff drought brought relief to suffering Buffalo fans, this win gave them hope that better things could be in store.
It was a triumph of coaching and competitive will. For the second time in two seasons as an NFL head man, McDermott got his beleaguered defense to bounce back in a big way after a sustained run of dreadful play. A year ago, remember, the Bills won, 16-10, in Kansas City after allowing 135 points over three weeks.
But above all, it was a coming-out party for Allen, the Bills’ new franchise quarterback, who had the sort of dynamic, fearless performance that Buffalo fans have been longing for since Jim Kelly retired after the 1996 season.
In a spot that had seemed too big for him, Allen was spectacular, better than Kirk Cousins, who is being paid $28 million a year to put the Vikings over the top this season. Allen was the best player on the field — though a lot of defenders (Matt Milano, Jerry Hughes, Tre’Davious White, et all) rose up against Minnesota.
Last year, I called the win in Atlanta the biggest road win since the Super Bowl years. But considering the circumstances, this has to be bigger, and for one obvious reason: The kid who represents their future played like a real franchise QB, a true heir to Kelly.
Allen demonstrated the full range of his athletic ability and competitive character in just 20 minutes. He ran 10 yards for the first TD, lunging for the left cone to beat Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr. Later in the quarter, he jumped over Barr on a scramble, looking like some Olympian in the 110-meter hurdles.
He stiff-armed a would-be tackler. He drew a penalty on a horse-collar tackle by a frustrated Vikings defense. He leaped over the line for a 1-yard TD early in the second quarter, reaching the football over the top of the pack with his 6-foot-5 frame.
It was inspiring for Bills fans to watch. When Allen scored those TDs, seasoned fans might have been transported back to the 1989 opener in Miami, when Kelly kept for the game-winning TD on the final play. It was the one play that announced Kelly’s arrival as a clutch player and leader who would get the Bills to a Super Bowl.
Allen’s sheer athletic skills were evident. That’s why the Bills moved up to take him seventh in the draft. He has demonstrated an audacious, confident demeanor, and rare leadership for a rookie. Late in the game, he told his offensive teammates to finish, and to remember to congratulate the defensive guys, too.
The most promising thing of all, though, was his accuracy. Remember, that was the big question coming out of college. Allen’s stats (15-for-22, 196 yards, 1 TD) don’t reflect how good he was. He had several drops, including one that could have been a TD.
Allen was near-flawless with his throws. He was precise with his throws to the flat, which had been a problem earlier. He made strong throws on the run, which is a vital skill because it makes it difficult for defenders to cheat and creates throwing lanes.
He looked like a veteran, not some raw rookie looking to get through his first road game, manage the game and limit mistakes. He attacked. He dictated to an elite NFL defense.
Coordinator Brian Daboll deserves a lot of credit for an inventive and bold game plan, one that didn’t defer to Vikings defense and played to his rookie quarterback’s talents.
It was a complete team effort. The defense was tremendous. At one point late in the first half, the Bills had a 13-1 edge in first downs. They had 27 points and Minnesota 26 yards. It was like the first half of the opening two games in reverse. The Vikings didn’t run a play in Bills territory until more than five minutes into second half.
No one could have seen this coming. But in retrospect, it makes the decision to make Peterman the No. 1 even worse. Allen is the franchise. That’s why they drafted him. Conducting some quarterback competition in camp simply gave McDermott an excuse not to pick the right guy.
Anyway, the right man has the job. It’s only one game. Allen will have his rough moments. Sam Darnold struggled after his coming-out game. But Bills fans have a good reason to be happy right after this one.
For the first time since Kelly retired, it looks as if they finally got the quarterback thing right. What else really matters?