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Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen needs to stop beating himself

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen needs to stop beating himself

In a 1970 Earth Day poster decrying pollution, cartoonist and political satirist Walt Kelly coined the phrase: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Walt Kelly, meet Josh Allen.

In front of a national television audience and with a gimme putt victory guaranteed after savior/quarterback Aaron Rodgers exited with an Achilles tendon injury just four snaps into his New York Jets career, Allen became his own worst enemy. Rather than taking what the superb but beatable Jets defense was giving him Monday night, the Buffalo Bills quarterback got greedy. And dumb. He reverted to Hero Ball which resulted in Zero Ball.

Allen wound up tossing three interceptions — including two into double coverage deep down the middle of the field — and lost a fumble, as the Bills suffered a gut-punch 22-16 loss. It ended in overtime when New York’s Xavier Gipson returned a poor punt for touchdown, but it never should have reached that point. And Allen admitted as much in a post-game press conference in which he looked ashen.

“I hurt our team tonight,’’ he said. “I cost our team tonight. It feels eerily similar to last year and I hate that it’s the same. I do.”

The Jets have the rare type of defense that can pressure quarterbacks without blitzing. And in winning two of the past three meetings against the Bills, they appear to have Allen’s number, holding Buffalo’s Pro Bowl quarterback to two TD passes, while picking him off five times and sacking him 13 times, including five takedowns Monday night. “Me trying to force the ball,’’ Allen said, continuing to pile onto himself at the presser. “Same (stuff). Same place. Different day.”

After leading the NFL in turnovers last season with 19, Allen spent the past nine months talking about how he needed to do a better job of protecting the ball – and himself. He did neither in this season-opener. If he had just thrown to open receivers on short and intermediate routes, the outcome would have been different. And what makes this loss sting even more is that it was all there on a silver platter for the Bills after Rodgers left for good and Jets bust Zach Wilson was forced into action. “It sucks when you feel you are the reason [for the loss],’’ Allen said. “And I am.”

The first caller to the Bills post-game radio show argued that Allen should be benched for Sunday’s home opener against the Las Vegas Raiders. With apologies to bombastic tennis-champion-turned-commentator John McEnroe, my response is: “You can’t be serious!” Yes, Allen stunk up the joint, and, yes, he’s in a bit of a slump, dating back to last season, but he remains a top-five NFL quarterback and Buffalo’s best hope for a Super Bowl title. And, oh, by the way, sixteen games remain.

The Jets experienced a Pyrrhic victory Monday, and figure to be more pretender than contender without Rodgers for the rest of the season. Wilson threw for just 140 yards vs. the Bills and is who he is: A mediocre quarterback at best. Look for the Jets to bring in a veteran retread quarterback, but even with a Nick Foles, Colt McCoy or Carson Wentz at the controls, they will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs.

The Miami Dolphins are a much more formidable AFC East foe with a dynamic, high-scoring offense. As evidenced by his 466-yard, three-touchdown passing performance in a victory against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, Tua Tagovailoa has cracked the top 10 NFL quarterbacks list. But there remain concerns he will be durable enough to play the entire schedule, given he suffered three concussions in 2022, including one that ended his season prematurely.

Although Allen has the most turnovers (84) in the NFL since his pro debut in 2018, he also has been responsible for 178 touchdowns (139 passing; 38 rushing; one receiving). And many of those scores have come after everything broke down and he made a play that no other quarterback can make. You don’t want him to stop taking chances. You just want him to stop taking foolish chances.

Allen needs to begin showing the type of football maturity one would hope from a 27-year-old quarterback in his seventh season. There are times when a gunslinger needs to keep his gun in his holster. There are times when Allen needs to stop going for the kill shot and go to his wide open second or third option underneath. Part of the problem might be that he hasn’t developed a trust with a slot receiver like the one he had with Cole Beasley.  Perhaps, over time, he’ll cultivate a similar on-field relationship with rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid, and that will provide him with a dependable safety valve receiver.

Allen also needs to realize that discretion is the better part of valor. Coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane have stressed ad nauseum the importance of him avoiding huge hits. Throw the ball away. Run out of bounds rather than trying to go through or over somebody. There were opportunities against the Jets when he could have and should have headed to the sidelines instead of into a collision. There’s a difference between toughness and recklessness.

Here’s the deal: Monday night was arguably the worst game of Allen’s career. He’s still elite, and the Bills, despite some continuing concerns with the offensive line and run defense, remain the team to beat in the division. There’s no reason to believe he won’t bounce back from being his own worst enemy.

Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist. He and Bills radio voice John Murphy will sign copies of their new book, “If These Walls Could Talk: Buffalo Bills,” from 3-5 p.m. on Saturday, September 16, at the Bills Store at Highmark Stadium. Bills Pro Bowl center and radio analyst Eric Wood will join them.