You couldn’t have found a greater contrast to the most bizarre and disturbing development to emerge from the Buffalo Bills’ dressing room after Sunday’s 31-20 loss against the Los Angeles Chargers.
As teammates reacted with a combination of shock and disgust – mostly the latter – to learning that a veteran cornerback had quit on them in the middle of the game, they also couldn’t help but show their admiration and appreciation for the attitude and effort of their rookie quarterback.
“He’s a gamer, he’s tough as crap,” fullback Patrick DiMarco said of Josh Allen. “He’s a guy you want to go to war with, so I’m excited for what he’s got going forward.”
“The sky’s the limit for him,” said tight end Charles Clay.
Sunday marked Allen’s NFL starting debut. It wasn’t great, but it was a vast improvement over the atrocious Nathan Peterman Experiment that melted down in last week’s season opener at Baltimore.
It also offered about the only shred of optimism and hope to come out of another mostly dreary performance by the 0-2 Bills, one that sent most of the fans at New Era Field heading for the exits with seven minutes left.
For the second game in a row, the defense was awful, doing the most to put the Bills in a 28-3 first-half hole from which they never could escape. Sean McDermott’s decision to yank play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier provided a noticeable spark to the D, which held the Chargers to a field goal in the second half. That move – which figures to be permanent given the crisis in which McDermott’s team finds itself heading into daunting road trips to Minnesota and Green Bay – would have been the day’s biggest shock had Davis not trumped it by suddenly exiting the game on his own at halftime to enter retirement.
The collective feeling among Davis’ former teammates, as well as others connected with the Bills’ organization, is “good riddance.”
Allen drew an entirely different vibe for what he did, on and off the field. His teammates could see that something special was happening before their eyes, even if the scoreboard didn’t reflect as much.
“I feel he had a good command of the huddle,” Clay said. “He’s always been confident and lifting guys up. Guys around him have got to play better, but I feel like he was poised out there, I feel like he was having fun. I never felt like was nervous or anything like that.”
Perhaps the defining moment of Allen’s first professional start came shortly after the Bills opened the second half with a touchdown to cut the margin to 28-13. The 22-year-old Allen went over to the defensive players – whose ranks include a pair of 35-year-olds in Kyle Williams and Lorenzo Alexander – and gave them a pep talk. He urged them to keep battling, because as bleak as things might have looked he wasn’t going to give up.
“I think any time you get in the game and guys that are competitors and love to compete and love their teammates, that’s what you see from them,” said Williams, seemingly going out of his way to describe the opposite of Davis.
The defense responded by forcing a punt against an offense that, through two quarters, was putting it through more of the kind of humiliation it felt against the Ravens.
“Yeah, that’s what a leader does,” McDermott said. “A lot of times, it seems to be offense over here and defense over here and special teams, and people don’t cross over. But that’s what a leader does: He crosses over and gets those guys going, and they responded. They appreciated that; we need more of it.”
“I play with a lot of emotions, and after that touchdown drive I wanted the defense to know that I’m in this thing,” Allen said. “They went out there and they played hard. I just wanted them to know that I was with them on that.”
The numbers weren’t great. He completed 18 of 33 passes for 245 yards and a late touchdown. He also ran eight times for 32 yards.
Allen had his rookie moments, with the two biggest coming on a pair of interceptions. On the first, which came late in the third quarter, he was trying to fight his way out of a sack and recklessly heaved the ball in the direction of running back Marcus Murphy.
“I should’ve just taken a sack or thrown it away,” Allen said. “The second one (intended for tight end Jason Croom midway through the fourth quarter), he was running over the top ... I should’ve allowed him to run under it, but I put it out in front of him and didn’t put enough air on it.”
Allen will learn from those blunders, as well as the indecision that helped lead to his being sacked five times. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is quickly developing trust in the rookie, something reflected in his more aggressive play-calling through the final two quarters.
Allen’s teammates have growing belief in him as well. They’ve kept a close watch on him since the moment McDermott announced Wednesday that the rookie would start.
“He’s a grinder,” DiMarco said. “He did a great job prepping all week. His car was one of the first in and one of the last out Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. He knew the game plan, he was ready.”
Even Charger players couldn’t help but show Allen some respect.
“I think the quarterback’s going to be all right,” cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. said. “He’s so big and elusive. He gets some more players around him, and I think he’ll be fine.”