The Josh Allen Era officially began with a bang in the second half Thursday night.
The Buffalo Bills' prized rookie quarterback entered the preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers at New Era Field after the halftime break, leading the third-team offense. The No. 7 overall pick in April's draft, Allen didn't wait long to air it out.
On the Bills' first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Allen ran play action and fired a deep ball down the left sideline to rookie receiver Robert Foster, who made the catch but couldn't get both feet inbounds. Allen's pass traveled about 60 yards in the air — his impressive display of arm strength on the night — but led Foster too close to the sideline.
"Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was talking to me a little bit and he said, 'Hold your right hand up for 'stabs,' hold your left hand up for 'goes,' ' and my left hand went up pretty fast," Allen said in the locker room after Carolina's 28-23 win. "He just wanted to take what the defense was giving us. I felt comfortable with who we had outside. I threw it a little outside and didn't allow our guy a chance to make the play."
After a run for a gain of 6 yards on second down, Allen threw another incomplete pass on third down, although it was an accurate throw that rookie receiver Austin Proehl had bounce off his hands for a drop.
The first play of Allen's second series didn't go much better. Rookie running back Keith Ford failed to account for rushing Carolina linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr., leading to an easy sack. Allen didn't have time to do anything on the play.
Ford, however, made amends on the next play, picking up 12 yards on a run. That set up a third-and-4, which Allen converted by completing his first pass to receiver Kaelin Clay for a gain of 6 yards.
Allen got into a rhythm after that, connecting with tight end Jason Croom for a 22-yard gain just two plays later. The rookie did a nice job of standing tall in the pocket and absorbing a hit just after delivering the ball. That moved the Bills into Carolina territory. Allen's next throw was another completion to Clay for a gain of 3 yards, but the play was wiped out after Carter Jr. was called for lowering his head to initiate contact.
Later in the drive, with the Bills in a third-and-13 hole, Allen again delivered an accurate throw in the flat to Ford, who was stopped 2 yards short of the first down. Following a timeout, the Bills went for it on fourth down from the Carolina 10-yard line. Allen turned in his ugliest play of the night, although to be fair there wasn't a lot he could do to avoid Carter, who shot into the backfield unblocked from the right side of the defensive line.
Allen attempted to avoid Carter, but couldn't outrun him to the left sideline. Allen then lost his footing trying to spin away, then fired a desperation pass intended for Croom. The ball was easily broken up by Panthers defensive end Daeshon Hall, who nearly came away with an interception that might have gone for a touchdown the other way. Allen maybe should have taken a sack, although it would have been a huge loss and set up a tougher field goal.
"Just trying to save a sack, make a play and get the ball into (his receivers') hands," Allen said. "I didn't do it as much as I would have liked to tonight. There's a few throws that I wish I had back. I missed Robert a couple times deep ... but it's something to learn on, something to grow from, and I'm looking forward to this whole process."
Allen's next possession also ended without points. He threw incomplete to Foster on first down, although the receiver may have run the wrong route. Allen came back on second down with one of his best throws of the night, a strike over the middle to rookie Ray-Ray McCloud for 8 yards. Allen scrambled for 8 yards and a first down on third down, but the play was wiped out by a holding penalty on rookie guard Wyatt Teller. A false start against Ford put the Bills in a second-and-17 hole, and Allen threw late intended for Foster, allowing Carolina cornerback Lorenzo Doss to break the pass up.
Another false start, this one on tackle Conor McDermott, put the Bills in a third-and-22 hole, and Allen again aired it out. His pass down the left sideline traveled 65 yards through the air, but was just out of the reach of Foster.
Allen's fourth drive began with 5:05 left in the fourth quarter. After another drop on first down, this one by Foster, he completed a pass to Ford that lost a yard. Allen showed off his athleticism on third down, scrambling for 13 yards to convert third-and-11.
Allen scrambled again for 5 yards on the next play, then underthrew tight end Khari Lee on second down, leading to an incompletion. Ford was stopped for no gain on a third-and-5 run, leading to a punt.
Allen's fifth and final drive started with 2:24 remaining. He found McCloud for an 11-yard gain on first down, then threw incomplete to Proehl on the next play. He once again overthrew Foster on a deep ball on second down, but it was a free play because the Panthers were offside. Allen scrambled for an 11-yard gain on the next play to convert another first down.
His next pass was incomplete intended for McCloud, but Allen bounced back with two of his best plays. The first was a 27-yard completion to Lee on a ball Allen threw off his back foot. The next play, he threw a missile to McCloud for a 14-yard touchdown, fitting the ball in between two Carolina defenders to the front-right pylon.
"Just trying to go through every play the right way, taking what they give us," he said. "Sometimes the best ball is the smart play, which is the checkdown. I threw a couple of those tonight, let our guys go make some plays on third down. Ultimately, we were the best when our guys had the ball in their hand making plays."
Allen finished the game 9 of 19 for 116 yards and one touchdown, a quarterback rating of 84.5.