Sunday afternoon, for the first time in five years, I was back at Highmark Stadium chronicling a Buffalo Bills game, which meant this was the first time I’d seen Josh Allen perform in person. The Right Arm from God didn’t disappoint.
By halftime against the hapless Pittsburgh Steelers, Allen had thrown for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He finished with a personal best 424 passing yards – second most in franchise history – and added another 42 yards on the ground as the Bills romped, 38-3, handing Mike Tomlin the worst loss of his Hall of Fame coaching career.
Though pleased with the way his injury-depleted team took care of business — the Bills were missing seven starters — Allen lamented several plays he didn’t make.
“Honestly, I felt like I missed a few throws,’’ he said. “I was a little ticked off with a couple of passes. I want to complete every ball. Honestly, I know that’s typically not possible. There were just some throws I could have done better.”
His response is just another reason to love the guy. Complacency will never be an issue with him.
Yes, he was intercepted in the end zone and he sailed another potential touchdown pass over the head of a wide-open receiver, but his completions are what really stood out. Several of them came on throws no other quarterback in the NFL can make.
A muffed opening kickoff forced Buffalo to begin its first drive on its own two-yard line. When two running plays netted zero yards, many Bills fans probably began fretting that this game was going to follow a pattern similar to last year’s season-opening upset loss to the Steelers at Highmark.
But those concerns were quickly allayed after Allen dropped back and unleashed a bomb 46 yards down field and into the wind as he was being hit. His spiral cut through Lake Erie’s 15-mph swirling gusts and sailed majestically over two defenders and into the hands of Gabe Davis, who sprinted the rest of the way for a 98-yard touchdown connection. Sixty-four seconds into the game, Buffalo was up 7-0. No team in NFL history had ever scored a longer touchdown in a shorter period of time.
Now, savor that throw for a minute. From Allen’s own end zone. While being hit. Into a wicked wind. Over two defensive backs. Into the hands of a receiver who didn’t have to break stride. It was Michael Jordanesque. It was amazing. And with Allen the Alien, such superhuman plays are becoming the norm rather than the exception.
“Obviously, the kick return put us at the two, put us behind the eight-ball, there,’’ Allen said. “But guys were resilient. We didn’t blink. Just trusted our guys, and they made some plays.”
Did they ever. Davis, back to full speed after an early season ankle injury, made a spectacular one-handed grab, wrestling the ball away from Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick for a 62-yard touchdown reception. Allen followed that throw with a 15-yard scoring toss to his favorite target, Diggs, and a 24-yard TD pass to rookie fill-in Khalil Shakir. The rout was on.
When the Jumbotron showed Allen on the sidelines after his touchdown passes, the “Let’s Go Buffalo!” chants were replaced by chants of “MVP!” Through five games – four of them victories – Allen has 14 touchdown passes and leads the NFL in passing yards (1,651). He is on pace to throw for 5,613 yards and 48 scores.
Yes, I realize such extrapolations can be foolhardy. The reality is that if Allen continues to dominate like this, he’s going to be spending fourth quarters on the sidelines watching his backup nurse humungous leads instead of being out on the field padding his stats. I also realize Allen put on a show against a bad Steelers team that was missing NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt. But let’s not forget that the Bills were really banged up, too, but it didn’t matter because Allen is one of those rare athletes who elevates the play of all around him, including the second and third stringers.
There is a great sense of anticipation each time he takes a snap. It’s like when New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge steps to the plate. We have a feeling we might be about to witness something we’ve never witnessed before. And we have to keep reminding ourselves that Allen is just 26 years old. The best is yet to come.
Taking care of two-touchdown underdogs like the Steelers is an indication this team has matured and learned some painful lessons. The Bills realize every game matters if you want to secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs – something they failed to do last season, while losing to Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.
They now find themselves at 4-1 with another trip to Kansas City this Sunday to play a 4-1 Chiefs team that has twice blocked them from reaching their Super Bowl destination. Bills fans need no reminder about last January’s gut-punching 42-36 loss in overtime – particularly those final 13 seconds in regulation when their team inexplicably squandered a three-point lead and a chance to host the AFC Championship Game for the first time in a quarter of a century.
In that game, Allen and his friend and Chiefs counterpart Patrick Mahomes treated us to one of the most breathtaking quarterback duels in history, as the two combined for 844 yards of offense and eight touchdowns. Mahomes’ Chiefs have won three-of-the-four matchups between the two, with Allen coming out on top in last year’s regular-season meeting.
A Bills victory Sunday won’t atone for last January’s loss – only a win vs. Kansas City in the postseason can do that. But a win would give them a two-game edge in the conference playoff race. We saw what happened in the early 1990s when the road to the Super Bowl routinely went through Buffalo. The Vegas oddsmakers are bullish on these Bills, installing them as early 1.5-point favorites, marking the first time in Mahomes’ illustrious career he’s been an underdog at home. It speaks to the belief people have in Allen. It’s a belief I share, especially after seeing him perform with the naked eye on Sunday.
Best-selling author and nationally honored columnist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.