The theme of the day was about toughness, about backing down from no one, about giving as good as you get. Heck, even Sean McDermott showed up for his postgame news conference Sunday with spots of blood on the front of his gray sweatshirt.
“Part of it’s mine and part of it’s probably a little bit from the scrum there,” the coach said after the Buffalo Bills’ 24-21 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The “scrum,” which came late in the third quarter, resulted in Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson and Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette being ejected. It also set the tone for a goal-line stand that ended with the Jaguars missing a field goal.
But the grittiness didn’t end there or with the combined 23 penalties for 170 yards. As far as McDermott was concerned, the very essence of what the Bills showed in winning their second game in a row and beating a team that played in the AFC Championship game last January was their rookie quarterback, Josh Allen.
“I love his fire,” McDermott said. “He personifies Buffalo, right? He’s a hard-worker, blue-collar kid and loves to compete.”
In case you were wondering what the Bills missed with Allen out of the lineup the last four games, the rookie returned from an injured throwing elbow in convincing fashion. His mostly solid performance wasn’t about gaudy passing numbers; he completed only eight of 19 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown.
It was more about the way he stood tall in the pocket and took hits. And it was about the way he ran: 13 times for a Bills quarterback record 99 yards and a score.
“My expectations were that I’d be back, I’d be better mentally and, obviously, physically with the elbow holding up, and I just wanted to go out there and complete the ball when it needed to be completed and make plays when plays needed to be made,” Allen said. “I trust the guys around me, and that’s kind of what we did today.”
The impressive athleticism and physicality that were a large part of why the Bills made him the seventh overall pick of the draft were evident on a 14-yard touchdown run for a 21-14 lead they would never relinquish early in the third quarter. Allen also had a 45-yard sprint with under seven minutes left.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll loaded the game plan with runs to take advantage of the Jaguars’ man-to-man coverage, with defenders often playing with their back to the quarterback.
“I mean, they went split safety quite a bit,” Allen said. “And their ‘Mike’ (middle linebacker) was really a (third safety), especially when we did go empty (set), so that opens up a lot of lanes for the quarterback to run.”
The runs would have been the highlight of Allen’s day had he not delivered a couple of important throws that allowed the Bills to take a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
The first was a 32-yard connection with Kelvin Benjamin. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey – who had called Allen “trash” in the August edition of GQ magazine and stood by his critical remarks about the Bills making him the seventh overall pick in the draft in a tweet earlier in the week – picked up a facemask penalty on Benjamin that added 15 yards. After an 11-yard Allen pass to Jason Croom, Isaiah McKenzie sprinted six yards into the end zone.
The second impressive play from Allen’s throwing arm was a 75-yard touchdown pass to Robert Foster. It was the longest scoring throw by a Bills rookie and the team’s longest pass completion since Tyrod Taylor connected with Marquise Goodwin in 2016. Making it even more remarkable was the fact defensive linemen Dawuane Smoot and Yannick Ngakuoue simultaneously crashed into Allen as he released the ball, preventing him from seeing the score.
“We had Zay (Jones) on basically a curl route about 18 yards down the field, so I felt like the corner kind of jumped it,” Allen said. “Robert saw the safety deep, cut in front of his face, and I didn’t even really see it get caught.”
The first trait that LeSean McCoy liked about Allen from the first time they met was his attitude.
“He wants to win,” the running back said. “He’s no chump. He plays hard. They talked about him, so he couldn’t wait to get out there and prove them wrong.”
“Josh’s return was great, definitely what we needed,” Jones said. “I know there was a lot of questions of, ‘Are we going to keep this momentum going?’ and things like that from two weeks ago, and Josh did a great job of coming in, using his legs for plays, extending plays, hitting Robert Foster with a beautiful ball down the field.”
During a crazy sequence late in the third quarter, the Jaguars went from what was initially ruled a touchdown catch by Donte Moncrief to a first down at the Buffalo 1 to being backed up by penalties and ultimately missing a 42-yard field goal.
Along the way, they lost their best offensive player, Fournette, who sprinted from the Jaguars’ bench to start brawling with Bills players in the northwest corner of the field.
“You just can’t say enough about how we kind of pulled together here,” Allen said. “It’s an exciting win and it’s definitely, hopefully, going to carry some momentum into next week.”
The larger question, of course, is the extent to which Allen’s performance follows him into Sunday’s game at Miami and beyond.
“He’s still young, so again, let’s manage expectations,” McDermott said. “It was a good start for him. These (final) six games ... (are) to get him back on the field and grow and see different defenses. ... (Jacksonville is) a team that likes to get in your face and play a physical brand of football, and so do we.”
Just check out the blood on the coach’s sweatshirt.