GREEN BAY, Wis. – Josh Allen was distraught after his first of three turnovers, an absurd pass across his body into the middle of the field as he was being chased out of bounds, a ball easily intercepted in the end zone by Jaire Alexander.
Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott was the first to approach his rookie quarterback on the sideline. He didn’t yell as so many Buffalo fans undoubtedly did at their TVs. This was a teaching moment, and the Bills were far from out of the game, trailing the Green Bay Packers by 13 with less than a minute until halftime.
“He calmed me down,” Allen said. “He understands that I was frustrated and I knew I shouldn’t have done it and I did it, and he says, ‘We can’t do that.’ It was just real subtle.
“He understands that I’m a rookie and I’m going to have growing pains. But at the same time, I hold myself to a higher standard. I don’t care if I’m a rookie or I’ve been in the league for 10 years. It’s something I can’t do. It’s something I’m going to learn from and I’m not going to do it again.”
There was much to learn after Buffalo’s offense imploded in a 22-0 smackdown by the Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field, the Bills' first shutout loss since 2008 and a humbling result after last week’s stunning victory in Minneapolis.
Allen struggled to find open receivers, even when afforded plenty of time by the offensive line.
Whether that was a result of guys failing to get open or the quarterback failing to understand what the defense was showing him, well, both.
There isn’t much offensive firepower to work with on this roster, as evidenced by three-and-outs on seven of 12 possessions. Three more ended in turnovers.
“We’ve got to look at the tape and see,” McDermott said. “And that’s where it comes into winning the one-on-ones. Whether it’s zone or man, there’s one-on-ones to be won out there and we’ve got to make sure that we are winning those one-on-ones. At the end of the day, that’s what the game comes down to.”
Add a virtually nonexistent running game – LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory combined for 39 yards on 11 carries – and it’s no wonder Allen looked like the rookie that he is.
That doesn’t excuse his inaccuracy, a major knock against him coming out of college and still a clear concern after his third NFL start.
Two notable instances occurred on the possession that ended with his pick in the end zone.
Allen notably skipped a pass off the turf to an open Robert Foster along the right sideline. And even his longest completion of the day, a 34-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin, might have been a touchdown if he’d have hit the receiver in stride.
That, by the way, was the Bills’ first reception by a wide receiver. It was Allen’s fourth completion. It came with 1:51 remaining in the first half.
And yet this game got away from the Bills because Allen compounded the offense’s general ineptitude with rookie mistakes.
McDermott agreed that Allen’s interception in the end zone was “inexcusable.”
“He knows better,” McDermott said. “Obviously, he’s got to learn from that, because you go into half possibly – I don’t like to play the hypothetical game – but possibly (trailing) 13-3. But again, the woulda, shoulda, coulda, we’ve got to learn from it. He’s got to learn from it. And I’m confident he will and we’ll continue to get this thing going here as the season progresses.”
Allen’s second pick, on the first drive of the second half, might have been even worse, in that it nearly got his purported top wide receiver killed.
Allen led Benjamin directly into a truck-stick blow by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who not only picked the ball at the Packers 30-yard line but temporarily knocked the receiver out of the game.
Allen must be aware of the situation he’s putting his receiver in when he throws the ball.
“Just understanding what I can and can’t do,” Allen said. “Obviously, the interception before the half took three points away from us, at least … so that’s one I want back. The one I threw to KB, I can’t lead him into a split safety. That’s my fault. And I’ve got to continue to get better and understand what’s going on around me, and just feel it better.”
Allen’s final stat line was about as ugly as the scoreboard.
He completed 16 of 33 pass attempts for 151 yards, two interceptions and a 36.3 passer rating.
And those stats were padded in garbage time.
Allen was 9 of 24 for 87 yards and a 13.7 rating through three quarters, at which point Benjamin led the team with those 34 receiving yards on one catch. He was targeted a team-high six times.
Zay Jones, who ended up leading the wideouts with four catches for 38 yards, didn’t have a reception until six minutes remained in the game. Tight end Charles Clay had a team-high 40 yards on four catches.
“We just need to do all we can to be there for him,” Clay said about Allen. “Not just him, but all our teammates. As a whole we just have to be better.”
Allen was sacked seven times.
But a number of those sacks were on the quarterback himself.
Allen often simply held the ball for far too long, so add pocket presence to the list of things that need work.
“I’ve got to be better at understanding what the defense is trying to do, finding check-downs or putting the ball in a position where our guys can go make a play,” Allen said.
His third turnover was a fumble at the Packers' 29-yard line late in the fourth quarter, a call upheld on review. That one’s not why the Bills lost the game, but it helped ensure the shutout.
Here’s the good news: Allen is the same quarterback who helped lead the Bills to that surprising upset victory last week against the Vikings.
If Allen learns from his mistakes – which are correctable – and improves his accuracy and awareness, he has all the physical tools to eventually lead the Bills back to national prominence.
This season is all about his growth as a franchise quarterback.
There are more highs and lows to come.