Ready or not, the Josh Allen Era is upon us.
Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott announced Wednesday the team’s prized rookie quarterback will make his first career start Sunday in the home opener against the Los Angeles Chargers.
“It’s the right move for our team,” McDermott said.
That phrase, or some variation of it, was repeated at least 13 times by McDermott during a press conference that lasted a little less than 14 minutes.
“I don’t feel the need, honestly, to elaborate,” he said. “We talk a lot in house about decisions and things and what we’ve got to do, and the right move at the right time. And right now, this is the right move for us.”
Of course, anyone seeking justification of the decision to switch from Nathan Peterman to Allen need only look at the Week 1 box score. Peterman was abysmal against the Baltimore Ravens, completing just 5-of-18 passes (27.8 completion percentage) for 24 yards and two interceptions – a quarterback rating of 0.0. It’s the second time in three career starts Peterman has been removed for performance, the first time coming last year in his first career start against the Chargers.
Just like last year, it took only one half of football for the Bills to pull the plug on the Peterman project. Allen took over after one offensive series in the third quarter, finishing the game 6 of 15 (40 completion percentage) for 74 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions – a quarterback rating of 56.0.
“I thought his command of the offense was there,” McDermott said. “There were some things that he did well in getting us in and out of the huddle – which those are things you don’t take for granted when a young player’s out there – and then after the snap, executed fairly well at times. And then there’s other times where we need to execute better. He moved well to put himself in position and generate some offense, I thought, within the pocket and then outside the pocket. There’s some things, like I said after the game, that he can do better. He’s going to continue to learn and grow. That’s the growth mindset that our team embraces. That’s the case in this situation.”
So does that mean the job is Allen’s permanently, barring injury?
“I’m not going to get into how permanent it is," McDermott said. “Again, you’ve got to understand where I’m coming from. It’s the right move for our football team. And I’m not going any further than that. It’s the right move for our team. I’ve got confidence in Josh. I have confidence in this football team, and it’s the right move for our team.”
Wednesday’s announcement was inevitable. From the time the team traded up to the seventh overall draft pick to get Allen in April, it was clear he is the future of the franchise – a fact McDermott acknowledged Wednesday.
“That’s accurate,” the coach said. “When you draft a quarterback like we did, there’s a part of it where you have to say, ‘Hey, he’s going to play either A, B, or C, early, middle, or late. Or next year.’ You have to be OK with all of that.”
That explains why the Bills decided to deviate from their original plan of having Allen learn on the bench as quickly as they did.
“When you look at it, experience is important as well,” McDermott said. “He’s going to get valuable experience from being, in this case, where he’s going to be this weekend – behind the steering wheel. There’s certainly valuable experience when you can stand and watch, but as we all know, there’s no substitute for the experience when you’re actually behind the wheel. There’s a lot of value to that.”
McDermott is naturally guarded in press conferences, but the coach took that to a new level Wednesday.
“With all due respect to the questions, I get it,” he said. “There are some things I can share and some things that need to stay where they need to stay. I’m respecting where you guys are and you need to respect where we are on this as well.”
Momentum was building toward Allen winning the starting job over the summer, but a rough outing when he started in the third week against Cincinnati contributed to putting those plans on hold. The Bills were obviously comfortable enough with Allen’s grasp of the offense, though, because they traded away AJ McCarron – leaving the rookie as their only other option at the position.
“He will be prepared,” McDermott said. “I don’t think he is prepared yet, but it’s a natural progression throughout the week. He will be prepared. At the end of the day, he’s a young player; we keep that all in mind, manage expectations and know that we embrace that growth mindset. There’s going to be some challenges, some adversity, and you keep learning as you go and embrace that. I think we all do that here; I embrace that and there are a lot of lessons that I’ve learned from the game the other day that we’ve got to make some adjustments. He’s going to have to make some adjustments as he goes, as well.”
In what has been a trying week at One Bills Drive, running back LeSean McCoy brought some levity Wednesday when asked how he would help Allen navigate his first career start and quickly shot back, “40 carries” with a laugh.
“The one thing I’m going to talk to the offense about, especially the skilled guys, is when a rookie quarterback, to have a good game for them, it’s to make it easy on them,” McCoy said. “If he makes a wrong read, that’s a tough ball to catch, catch it. You might not get yards after the catch, but just catching the ball, giving him confidence, moving the chains in the running back room, making guys miss, breaking tackles. Everything to get that extra advantage is critical and big for this game, and for a rookie’s confidence. They’re so young; they get going and get more confidence each play. That’s one thing I want to talk to the guys about, just executing and making it easier for him.”
McCoy has been through plenty of quarterback changes before. He knows that by starting a rookie, “he’ll have his lumps, his bruises.”
“It’s learning,” McCoy said. “Every team, every game, every stadium, it’s a new experience for him. That’s what comes with the job. As far as a talent level, jumping from a college offense and learning that, coming to the NFL with the all-stars, the players, this is the elite level. I see his talent, he’s smart, his arm strength. He’s put together.
“If I had to draft a quarterback, I would draft a kid like him. He’s mobile, he’s tall, he’s strong, he’s not afraid, he’s smart and he has a big arm. When I said those things about rookies, I’m not big on rookies, but guys like him and (cornerback) Tre (White), they’re special. They’re different. This year, next year, you’ll see him coming together. It’s a scary sight for the defense.”
Allen will become the 18th different starting quarterback for the Bills since Jim Kelly retired in 1997. He also carries bigger expectations than any of the 17 who came before him.
“This is something I’ve dreamed of for a very long time, but now that it’s here, just come Sunday, I’m just trying to do my job,” Allen said. “I’m not trying to do too much. Trust in those around me and ultimately be the quarterback that this team needs, which is, moving the ball, staying on third down and putting points on the board.”
Even though his first taste of the regular season came in a game the Bills trailed, 40-0, when Allen entered the lineup, he said it was still a valuable learning experience.
“I was a little quick to get my eyes down. As the game went on, I felt a little more comfortable and trusted in the guys in front of me and the guys on the outside, just letting them make some plays,” he said. “The speed is just a little bit different in game. You get … different juices flowing. The energy, the excitement of the crowd. You’ve got guys on both sides going as hard as they can. They’re both trying to make plays on either side of the football. These reps are invaluable.”
Allen will become the second starter among the five quarterbacks selected in the first round, after the New York Jets started third overall pick Sam Darnold in Week 1.
“When I step on the field, I think I can help this team win football games and that’s what they brought me here to do – essentially be on the field, move the ball, and put points on the board,” Allen said. “I’m preparing to do that.”
Allen will face a defense that terrorized Peterman a year ago, intercepting him five times in the first half on the way to a 54-24 victory.
“We’ve got preparation to do, a lot of film work to do,” Allen said. “It’s a really good defense that we’re facing, so we can’t take them lightly. They’re going to be ready come Sunday.”
The Bills are betting that Allen will be, too.