While some of his Buffalo Bills teammates blast hip hop, country or heavy metal through their head phones during pre-game warmups, Josh Allen opts for soothing oldies but goodies. Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” shares air time with Elvis’ “I Can’t Stop Falling In Love With You.”
There aren’t any adrenaline-pumping, jock-rock “Eye of the Tiger” ditties on the 25-year-old quarterback’s playlist. And that’s by design. Allen’s old-soul choice of music is meant to relax and calm, not provoke. The songs are meant to keep a lid on emotions that, in the past, occasionally got the better of him once the game kicked off. I don’t know if the young man is superstitious or not, but if I were him, I wouldn’t tempt the fates. Stick to that pre-game setlist, Josh, because so far, so great.
The way Allen has been playing the past month leads me to believe he and his team might be flying, not to the moon, but rather to Los Angeles this February for the Super Bowl. Yes, there’s still an eternity of the season remaining. No four-win team has ever made the playoffs, and injuries and COVID can unexpectedly trip you up short of the goal line. But after the number the Bills did on the Chiefs in Kansas City in front of a national television audience Sunday night, Buffalo has established itself as the team to beat in the AFC and perhaps the entire NFL.
Bills players and coaches continue to remind us “this was just one win.” And that’s a good mindset because as Sean McDermott has noted, humility is an asset in a league that can humble you in a hurry. But, while this may have been just one win, it was not just any old win. This 18-point obliteration of last year’s conference champs on their home turf made a statement that these Bills have taken the next step. They’ve upped their game. They are the team to beat.
This was a game in which Allen took another leap forward — figuratively and literally. The 6-foot-5, 237-pound quarterback’s athleticism and tenacity were on full display when he hurdled a Chiefs defensive back on his way to a crucial first down in the fourth quarter. That Edwin Moses’ Olympic impersonation put an exclamation point on a marvelous performance that saw Allen throw for 315 yards and three scores and tack on 59 rushing yards and another touchdown. Josh’s first seven completions went for a mind-boggling 219 yards.
Allen’s too humble to say as much, but the night was even more special because he clearly out-played his counterpart, Patrick Mahomes, who entered the game as the league’s leading MVP candidate. Oddsmakers now have Allen in the driver’s seat for that honor, a year after he was runner-up for the award.
As great as he and the offense were Sunday night, it was difficult to decide if they or the Bills defense played the biggest role in the romp. Buffalo’s “D” has been outstanding, and holding Mahomes and Co. 11 points below their per-game average was another indication how far this group has come. Kudos to Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, whose game plan was carried out to perfection. He played his two safeties deep all night to take away the long ball, and was able to get pressure on Mahomes without a single blitz.
The strategy clearly frustrated Mahomes, who was held to 272 yards and two touchdowns on 33-of-54 attempts. The Bills picked him off twice. One of the interceptions occurred when Greg Rousseau, a defensive end with a seven-foot wing span, batted down and caught a Mahomes pass on a goal-to-go play on the Bills eight-yard line. Upstairs, in the visiting owner’s booth, Bills general manager Brandon Beane was beaming because Buffalo had used its first-round pick last April to select Rousseau for the express purpose of developing a pass rush that would harass elite QBs. Beane’s second-round pick, Boogie Basham, also chipped in on one of the Bills two sacks.
After a toe-stubbing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener, the Bills have reeled off four consecutive wins, outscoring opponents during the streak, 156 to 41, a ridiculous 30-point-per-game victory margin. This dominance probably isn’t sustainable. The Bills are sure to encounter bumps in the road, like every team does. But as long as they keep Allen healthy, there’s no reason the Bills can’t go all the way. The roster is talented and deep. That depth was on display Sunday as the defense bottled up the Chiefs despite playing without injured linebacker Matt Milano, who, through the first four games, was Buffalo’s best defender.
There’s a wonderful mix of young and veteran players. And several of the whippersnappers are beginning to emerge. Among the risers is tight end Dawson Knox, a gifted athlete who is realizing his potential and doing his best Rob Gronkowski impersonation with five TD receptions in his last four games.
McDermott continues to do a marvelous job convincing his players to remain “hungry and humble,” and coordinators Frazier and Brian Daboll are turning in the types of game plans that should land them head coaching jobs next year.
This keeps up, and Bills Mafia members soon will be adopting Josh’s setlist and singing Elvis’ “I Can’t Stop Falling In Love With You.”
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal’s sports columnist.