EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — In a game full of surprises, from an immediate injury to Aaron Rodgers to a walk-off punt return in overtime that sealed a 22-16 New York Jets victory, one of the biggest was the play from Buffalo Bills All-Pro quarterback Josh Allen.
In a game where he found himself in a duel with Zach Wilson, Allen was the one who played like a young quarterback looking to get his career back on track. Three brutal interceptions that were unquestionably his fault, five sacks, another fumble lost and a handful of errant throws put the Bills in a situation in which they could not score against one of the few elite defenses in the league.
Allen put together one of the worst games he’s played since he entered the league in 2018. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Allen was worse throwing without pressure than he was with pressure. Allen averaged just 4.6 yards per attempt and threw two of his interceptions from what Next Gen Stats would describe as a clean pocket. This was a bit of déjà vu for Buffalo — when the Bills traveled to MetLife Stadium last season, Allen struggled with just 205 passing yards and two interceptions in a three-point loss.
“I was trying to force the ball,” Allen said soberly after the game. “Same s***, same place, different day. I hurt our team tonight. I cost our team tonight. This feels eerily similar to last year and I hate that it’s the same. I do.”
The Bills were up 13-3 going into halftime against the Jets on Monday, but couldn’t close the game out because of Allen’s exceedingly reckless style of play. Head coach Sean McDermott was honest with his assessment of the play of his franchise quarterback.
“We made it pretty hard on ourselves,” McDermott said. “It’s hard to win in this league when you’re playing two opponents: the one on the other sideline and yourself and that’s what we did tonight. That’s not the right formula to win games in the NFL.”
McDermott noted that part of the reason why the Bills struggled was because of their poor efficiency on first down, which kept them in disadvantageous positions throughout the game. According to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, the Bills averaged -0.13 expected points added (or EPA) for all their first and second downs. For reference, that’s about on par with how the Indianapolis Colts performed all of last season (-0.153 EPA per play). Allen’s interceptions came on third-and-8, second-and-13 and another third down with two yards to go.
“If you study turnovers around the NFL and around the game, a lot of the turnovers take place when you’re off schedule or behind the sticks or what we call ‘in the red,’” McDermott said. “It’s not a good place to be so when you’re in those situations, you’ve gotta be smart and it’s a one-dimensional offensive thought in those situations, but they know it’s one-dimensional also. You just gotta be smart with the ball and don’t put yourself where the ball is in harm’s way.”
Still, it’s important to keep perspective that this is only Week 1, Allen is still an elite NFL quarterback and it’s unlikely that he plays another game with four turnovers the rest of the season. Even with his tendencies to be a gunslinger on the field, this was only the second career game where Allen turned the ball over four times.
It’s a bit of an anomaly for him to have a performance this bad. Pro Bowl left tackle Dion Dawkins kept a leveled head about what had occurred with his quarterback during the game.
“It’s football, man,” Dawkins said. “You go up, but they score. It happens. Some people score early, some people score late. Things happen. A 10-point lead is nothing. It’s the NFL … it’s one loss, flush it, let it go and go onto new things.
“It’s one loss, it’s not two, it’s not three. The type of guys we have, we’re not going to let this define us. We have great athletes and I’m rocking with the Buffalo Bills, man.”
The world isn’t ending for the Bills even though it certainly felt like it in what should have been their first victory of the season. Like Dawkins said, things happen, but at the same time the Bills can’t afford too many more performances like this in the AFC East. The Dolphins look like they can score 40 against anyone, the Jets have a top-tier defense and the Patriots are a feisty team yet again.
The Bills just need Allen to not revert into the worst version of himself like he did against the Jets.