Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll could have relied solely on the stat sheet. He could have cited how quarterback Josh Allen has accounted for 24 touchdowns (19 passing, five rushing) through nine games — numbers that exceed Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers and barely trail Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson. He could have mentioned how Allen’s completion percentage is 10 points above last year’s and how his passer rating is nearly 22 points higher than in 2019.
And he could have mentioned that his third-year quarterback has put the Bills on his wide shoulder pads and thrown, carried and willed them to a 7-2 record, their best start since 1993.
But Daboll decided to forego the numbers and speak from the heart in his Zoom media call Monday. Succinctly, in 11 words, he summed up why Bills Mafia love this guy the way they haven’t loved a quarterback since Jim Kelly.
“This dude IS Buffalo. He’s got a chip on his shoulder.”
A chip as big as 70,000-seat Bills Stadium. And a heart just as large.
Allen added to his legend in Sunday’s 44-34 statement victory against a Seattle Seahawks team some experts had pegged to win the Super Bowl. The 24-year-old passed for 415 yards and three touchdowns, while thoroughly out-playing Wilson, the front-runner for league MVP honors who experienced an uncharacteristically bad day with four turnovers. And what made Allen’s performance even more compelling were the circumstances under which it was achieved. The day before the game, he learned that his beloved grandmother, Patricia Allen, had died unexpectedly.
“Before meetings (Saturday) night, I called Josh and just asked him where he was on it and, obviously, I was expressing my sympathy to him, as well his family,’’ Bills head coach Sean McDermott told reporters after the game. “He said that he wanted to play. We just felt like he was going to have to compartmentalize for the better part of 24 hours in order to get through the game. And that’s what he did. Not an easy thing to play through.”
Allen clearly didn’t just play through it, he excelled, becoming the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era with 400-plus yards passing, at least three touchdown tosses, no interceptions and a 130-plus passer rating (138.5) in multiple games in a season. (He had put up similar numbers in a victory against Miami on September 20.)
Late Sunday afternoon, after the victory that proved he and the Bills are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, the grief overwhelmed him as he fell into Daboll’s arms.
“A lot of emotion there — particularly for him — but also for me,’’ Daboll said. “When you love somebody and something happens like that, it’s tough. And to see it happen to somebody that you really care about as a player, that’s tough. But that’s why his teammates love him, too. All-day competitive. All-day tough. They’d do anything for him.”
The love Allen has for his teammates and they for him is quite apparent. As is the love Allen has for Buffalonians and they for him. He may hail from the rural central California town of Firebaugh (population: 8,336), but he easily could have been born and bred in the City of Good Neighbors.
“I know he’s from out there in California,’’ said Daboll, who grew up in suburban Buffalo and played football at the University of Rochester. “But you can just pick him up and put him right here. Put him in West Seneca, South Buffalo, the Northtowns — wherever you want to be, he’ll fit right in. That’s him. He’s just a genuine, genuine person. And I know he appreciates a great deal the support he gets from this community, this fanbase, Bills Mafia. I know he’s very thankful for that. And we’re thankful for him.”
The fans’ passion for him was underscored after they learned about the grief Allen had played through. By Tuesday afternoon, more than $200,000 — at $17 a pop in honor of the quarterback’s jersey number — had been raised for Oishei Children’s Hopital, Allen’s charity of choice. Overwhelmed by their kindness, he took to Twitter Tuesday, tweeting: “At a loss for words. Buffalo, I love you.”
Sunday’s victory was another test aced in this education of a quarterback who’s making the rapid transition from franchise to elite. After a monstrous 4-0 start in which Allen compiled MVP numbers, he and his team hit a rut, going 2-2 their next four games, while the offense sputtered. The skeptics who have dogged Allen ever since he took his first snap resurfaced. But he snapped out of it against the Seahawks, taking full advantage of a defense ranked dead-last in defending the pass.
Most believed the Bills would need to score often in order to keep pace with Wilson and Seattle’s unstoppable offense. And they did, thanks to Allen. Seattle had hoped to rattle the young quarterback by blitzing him often, but Allen made them pay for their aggression. According to stats compiled by respected Buffalo News football writer Mark Gaughan, Allen was 15-for-20 for 197 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and three sacks on the 26 blitzes the Seahawks threw at him. Defensive coordinators might want to rethink the heavy pressure strategy because Allen has completed 66 percent of his passes vs. blitzes this season, and has eight touchdown passes, just one interception and a 116.2 passer rating.
Yes, more tests await, including another potential shootout Sunday in Arizona against dynamic second-year Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (16 touchdown passes, eight rushing TDs), and a December 13 showdown with the unbeaten Steelers in Pittsburgh.
But the arrow continues to point upward. Quarterback, team and town have proven to be a tough combination to beat.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist. His latest book, “Remembrances of Swings Past: A Lifetime of Baseball Stories,” is available in paperback and digitally at amazon.com.