In the latest mind-boggling development of 2020, Josh Allen is decidedly good at playing quarterback. I know. I know. Walking back takes about the Bills signal-caller being bad is a social media phenomenon that is pretty stunning to witness. But after yet another outstanding performance Sunday, it’s time to face the music. Three weeks into the NFL season, Allen is a legitimate MVP candidate, and because of his play, Buffalo looks like a legitimate title contender.
Through two and a half quarters of Sunday’s contest, Allen was magnificent, leading the Bills to a 28-3 lead after throwing three touchdowns and running for another. The Rams surged back, and an Aaron Donald strip sack of Allen set up Los Angeles’s go-ahead score with less than five minutes left. But Allen, who tied for the NFL lead with four fourth-quarter comebacks last season, directed a drive that highlighted everything praised and criticized about Allen’s game.
The wackiness started on second down, when the quarterback took a 12-yard sack after bobbling the ball and nearly throwing it away. Two plays later, he overcame a third-and-22 by zipping a dart to Cole Beasley to pick up a first down.
The Bills quickly drove into Rams territory. Facing second-and-10 at Los Angeles’s 15-yard line, Allen avoided another deep sack by running away from a group of Rams defenders. But Allen was called for a face mask—the first time a quarterback has been called for that penalty since 2016—pushing Buffalo out of the red zone.
He got called for a facemask lmao pic.twitter.com/1QCiP1PPlF— Kaelen Jones (@kaelenjones) September 27, 2020
On third-and-25, Allen completed a gutsy 17-yard pass to Stefon Diggs to set up fourth-and-8. A (questionable) pass interference call against the Rams set up first-and-goal at L.A.’s 3-yard line with 25 seconds left. So, of course, Allen tossed his fourth touchdown pass of the game, easily hitting tight end Tyler Kroft on the very next play.
It hasn’t mattered whether you believe Allen is actually good or not. He’s produced at an MVP level, and he’s guided Buffalo to a 3-0 start. On Sunday, Allen went 24-for-33 (72.7 percent) for 311 yards, four TDs, and one interception, and added four carries for 8 yards and one TD. This season, he’s completed 81 of 114 (71.1 percent) passes for 1,038 yards, 10 TDs, and one INT. He’s tallied 22 carries for 84 yards and two TDs. It’s hard to argue that someone with such credentials isn’t good at their job.
Jalen Ramsey saw this coming. At one point, like the rest of us, he didn’t. In August 2018, Ramsey called Allen, who’d just completed a rocky rookie season, “trash” during an interview with GQ. Earlier this week, Ramsey walked back those comments, describing Allen as “talented.” On Sunday afternoon, Ramsey got a firsthand taste of just how talented Allen is, with Allen combining with Stefon Diggs, who beat Ramsey in coverage, on Allen’s third touchdown pass of the game.
REMEMBER WHEN JALEN RAMSEY CALLED JOSH ALLEN TRASH???— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 27, 2020
LISTEN TO THE ANNOUNCER AS JOSH ALLEN PICKS ON RAMSEY FOR 7 pic.twitter.com/emKnecgTmx
Here’s the thing, though: We knew Allen, the no. 7 pick in the 2018 draft, was talented. However, “talented” and “good” mean different things. When you measure 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, can overthrow people running 80 yards downfield with ease, and have an eye-popping athletic profile, the expectation is that talent will convert into production. Sure, Allen helped the Bills reach the playoffs last season, but more credit went to the team’s defense. His lateral against Houston in last season’s wild-card game is cherished meme material, after all.
good morning. happy NFL day.— Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) September 10, 2020
a reminder that Josh Allen's lateral happened THIS YEAR pic.twitter.com/al0djNAooY
“I took a lot from [the Houston playoff] game,” Allen told reporters Sunday. “I mean, I think you saw [on Sunday], I wasn’t trying to force the ball in the end zone. I was taking kinda what they were giving us. I knew we had time. I wasn’t trying to panic, our team wasn’t panicking. Especially in that situation, they were looking to the quarterback to kinda be cool and calm, and that’s what I was trying to be. Our guys made some spectacular plays and we got it done.”
The jokes about Allen aren’t holding up like they used to. He still has a capacity for bizarre plays, like the shockingly deep sacks he’s prone to taking and the horrible incompletions. But Allen has earned the praise he’s getting. The Buffalo Bills earned the praise their organization is receiving, too. General manager Brandon Beane drafted Allen out of Wyoming and has since chosen to go all in on the Allen Experience, signing veteran receivers Beasley and John Brown last year, and trading for Diggs this year. Before the season started, most considered the Bills to be a possible contender in the making. The only question mark was Allen. Three games in, he no longer appears to be an inconvenience; he’s been a catalyst for the Bills’ success.
Reckoning with Allen emerging as an MVP candidate may take time for most to process. But it’s pretty clear he’s there. That’s a part of the beauty of sports, right? It’s OK to walk back your criticisms. At the time, they were likely valid. Allen is an enigma, capable of spectacular and foolish plays. Allen is still wild at times, but he’s finally honing his freneticism and channeling it into accuracy. Allen completed just 56.3 percent of his passes through his first two years. He’s completed an absurd 71.1 percent of his throws this year. According to Sports Info Solutions, only 63.5 percent of Allen’s throws were on target and 70 percent were catchable through his first two seasons. Entering Sunday, 76.5 percent of his throws were on target and 79 percent were catchable this year. It’s a startling change, and if he maintains this level of accuracy as a passer, he could soon be considered in elite territory. Perhaps that’s another discussion for another day, but it’s time to acknowledge the strides that Allen has made so far.