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Josh Allen shows encouraging signs in second half of Bills’ preseason opener

Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron did some nice things in splitting the first half of Thursday night’s preseason opener.

Both made decent throws and good decisions with where to go with the ball. Both moved the offense well enough to give the Buffalo Bills a 17-7 halftime lead against the Carolina Panthers. Both were, for the most part, solid and efficient in a game the Bills lost, 28-23.

Fans at New Era Field took it all in with a fair amount of interest, but mostly with patience. They knew what they really wanted -- what Sean McDermott insisted on making them wait for by starting Peterman and inserting McCarron in the second quarter -- wasn’t coming until the second half.

What they really wanted was the debut of Josh Allen. The loud ovation that greeted him said it all.

"It was really cool," Allen said. "Bills Mafia came out in full force tonight for a preseason game, so to see that, I'm excited to see what game one (of the regular season) is going to look like."

Solid and efficient aren’t what they’re expecting from this kid. They want something that makes them say, “Wow!” They got it, here and there, in a 9-of-19, 116-yard, one-touchdown performance. Most of all, what Allen delivered provided encouragement that something far better than what Peterman and McCarron and pretty much any QB the Bills have had in a long time is very much on the horizon.

"It doesn't take long for his talent to pop up and for you to be able to notice it," said veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who didn't play and watched from the sideline.

McDermott says he wants to take it slow with Allen, but there is reason to believe that what he showed Thursday night is going to make Bills followers want the coach to speed things up.

How thrilled was the audience to see the Bills’ projected savior? On Allen’s first snap, he faked a handoff and with a flick of his right arm, he sent the ball sailing almost 60 yards in the air to rookie receiver Robert Foster, who made the catch out of bounds. That drew another cheer. Not derisive, but appreciative that the team actually has a quarterback with that kind of arm strength — the kind that hasn’t been seen in these parts for a very long time.

"I think the fans appreciated that. I appreciated that," McDermott said. "We're out there and we're having fun and I thought it gave the crowd some juice. ... I like the aggressiveness of the play call."

Just as he has shown through offseason workouts and training camp practices, Allen throws pretty passes. The spiral is tight. The ball travels like a heat-seeking missile. Long throws follow a rainbow pattern that travel into the vicinity of the receiver, in stride, as was the case with a 65-yarder that just sailed over the head of Foster.

Rookie quarterback Josh Allen airs it out in debut

He put good touch on throws into the flat and fired bullets on intermediate routes, such as a 25-yard completion to rookie Ray-Ray McCloud early in the fourth quarter and especially on the pass he rifled between two defenders to McCloud for a 14-yard touchdown with 1:10 left on the clock.

"Josh is going to take chances; that's what makes him the quarterback he is and is going to be," McCloud said. "And he threw it in the hole that not too many quarterbacks can fit it in. That's just a flash right there of just what we see every day at practice. He's been putting it in holes like that all camp."

"It was Cover Two," Allen said. "Just a little out and a go route. To be honest, I probably shouldn't have thrown the ball. I should have come back to Austin Proehl coming across the middle wide open, but I felt the corner squeeze a little bit on the out route and felt that I could squeeze the ball in."

For all of the positive work Peterman and McCarron did, none of their passes looked as good as those.

Allen had his moments where his athleticism and strength, along with his inexperience, showed. The most notable was when the Bills decided to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Carolina 11. Linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr., came off the edge untouched, giving Allen no choice but to run. He retreated deep into the backfield, and instead of taking a big loss, he chose to turn as he was about to be sacked and hurl the ball. It was nearly intercepted by defensive end Daeshon Hall before hitting the ground.

Allen also had 13- and 11-yard runs, each for a first down, late in the game as his protection eroded and he mainly ran for his life. The second came on fourth down.

There isn’t a whole lot to take from what Peterman and McCarron did. Their showings pretty much resembled the practices of offseason workouts and training camp at St. John Fisher College. They’ve taken turns working with the first unit, while Allen has mostly been in the No. 3 spot, and little of what Peterman and McCarron have done is all that exciting.

Put another way, Tyrod Taylor didn’t generate a whole lot of excitement with his passing, not nearly as much as he did with his legs, and the Bills shipped him off before spending the seventh overall pick on Allen, the former Wyoming star.

Peterman completed 9 of 11 passes for 119 yards, including a 28-yard strike to Kelvin Benjamin. Peterman had two big-time throws. The first was when he rolled to his right and fired a sideline dart to Benjamin, who made the catch while falling forward out of bounds with both toes just inside the sideline marker. The second was the touchdown, as he hit Benjamin in stride along the sideline.

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Peterman’s night ended late in the first quarter, after he threw a low pass that bounced off the hands of running back Chris Ivory and was intercepted by linebacker Shaq Thompson. Yes, it was shades of the not-all-of-those-five-interceptions-were-his-fault rookie debut against the Los Angeles Chargers.

McCarron was sacked on his first snap, then threw a two-yard check-down pass to Logan Thomas. On his third play, McCarron had plenty of time to complete a 19-yard pass over the middle to Rod Streater.

After that, he overthrew Brandon Reilly deep. But later, with excellent protection, McCarron found Jeremy Kerley for 16 yards over the middle.

McCarron’s best play of the night was when he rolled to his right, threw to his left and connected with a wide-open Reilly at the 50-yard line. Reilly ran untouched until he was knocked out of bounds at the Panthers’ 13 for a 59-yard gain.

McCarron then tossed a swing pass to running back Marcus Murphy, who zigged and zagged for an 11-yard gain to the Carolina 2. That set up a short TD run by Murphy to make it 17-7.

It was fine. It was OK, especially for a first preseason game.

But it wasn't what Allen showed and has been showing.

"That man can throw," Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short said. "It’s going to be interesting to see what he does in this league. I think the Bills got a steal in the draft, as well. Hopefully he pans out to be good."

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