The first chance to see Josh Allen against comparable NFL competition didn’t go so well for the Buffalo Bills’ rookie quarterback, and it showed on his face after Sunday’s 27-23 loss against the New York Jets.
He seemed particularly crushed by this defeat, reflected by the distant look in his eyes and somber tone as he answered reporters’ questions.
“Usual football feeling after a game, especially after a loss,” Allen said when asked about his physical status after taking some fierce hits and being evaluated by the medical staff at halftime. “If we get a W, then I might feel a little better than I do right now.”
That winning feeling, however, belonged to 2018 Year of the Quarterback draft classmate Sam Darnold as the Jets snapped a six-game losing streak. It was Darnold who did a better job of showing why the Jets traded up to make him the third overall choice than Allen did of demonstrating why the Bills moved up twice to grab him seventh overall.
SAM DARNOLD. 👀
— NFL (@NFL) December 9, 2018
With both players injured for the previous meeting between the teams on Nov. 11 at MetLife Stadium, their much-anticipated showdown had to wait until Sunday at New Era Field. Round One went to Darnold, who led a winning touchdown drive that ended with Elijah McGuire’s 1-yard touchdown run with 1:17 left to provide the winning points and officially eliminate the 4-9 Bills from the playoffs with three games left.
“We’re good buddies and he played one heck of a game,” Allen said of Darnold. “But (I was) playing against their defense. We didn’t make as many plays as we needed to.”
The Bills did their familiar self-destructing on special teams. They allowed Andre Roberts to average 35.2 yards on five kickoff returns, including one for 86 yards, contributing heavily to the Jets’ average drive start of their own 47-yard line. Stephen Hauschka also had a 49-yard field goal attempt blocked just before halftime.
But the game will be remembered for how Darnold, popular among Bills fans before the draft after an impressive career at USC, outdueled his rough-edged but strong-armed counterpart from Wyoming to set the table for coach Todd Bowles’ bold decision to go for the win by running the ball on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Darnold’s passing wasn’t spectacular, but it was good enough to allow the Jets to rally from a 14-3 first-quarter deficit. Although he missed one series after fearing he had aggravated a foot injury that had sidelined him the previous three games (he didn’t), Darnold completed 16 of 24 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown, with one interception, for a passer rating of 83.7. His best play was a 37-yard connection with Robby Anderson that helped set up the decisive score.
“I knew that our whole mindset was to score a touchdown on that drive,” Darnold said.
"He's a solid, young quarterback," Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said of Darnold. "Obviously, he made the plays when they needed him to, especially at the end. He's going to be a guy that's going to continue to develop, like most young quarterbacks."
Meanwhile, Allen finished with 18 completions in 36 attempts for 206 yard and had two interceptions, including one to end the game on the Bills’ final drive, and lost a fumble.
“I’ve got to be smarter with the football,” Allen said. “I gave it away three times and I didn’t put us in great situations and great position. Coach (Sean) McDermott preaches ball security all the time, and there were a couple of plays where it just wasn’t the most important thing and it hurt us.”
“At times, I thought he tried to do too much,” McDermott said, in reference to Allen’s first interception, where he ran to the sideline and made a desperation heave across his body rather than throwing the ball out of bounds. “That’s tough living right there. Sometimes it works, but there’s enough times where it doesn’t. You’ve got to learn from that.”
For the third game in a row, though, Allen largely carried the Bills’ offense with his dynamic running. He led the Bills, who lost LeSean McCoy early in the first quarter with a hamstring injury, with 101 yards and a touchdown on nine carries (an average of 11.2 yards per rush). That followed Allen’s 99- and 135-yard efforts against Jacksonville and Miami, respectfully. He became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to rush for at least 100 yards in back-to-back games.
On Sunday, Allen engineered a nine-play, 62-yard drive that ended with a 36-yard Hauschka field goal to give the Bills a 23-20 lead with 2:31 left. Allen’s biggest throw was a 38-yarder to rookie Robert Foster, who led both teams with seven receptions for 104 yards.
But when the Bills took over with 1:17 remaining, it was on Allen to answer Darnold’s heroics with some difference-making plays of his own. Instead, he threw a pass for Zay Jones that cornerback Trumaine Johnson intercepted to end the game with 59 seconds left.
“We were in a situation where we needed the touchdown to win the game,” Allen said. “I pressed it and forced a bad ball instead of going through my progressions and, obviously, with no timeouts. In a perfect world, you get the ball to your receivers and they can get out of bounds, and that’s what I was trying to do there and I forced a bad play.”
Darnold could only hope that the Jets' defense could prevent Allen from making a comeback.
“It’s special to be able to play against him, and when we’re sitting on the bench, be able to watch him make plays,” Darnold said of Allen. “Obviously, you don’t want that to happen, but he was able to run the ball pretty good there. Whenever he throws it, it’s like a rocket is attached to his arm. It was cool to be able to watch him do his thing ... then it was awesome to see (Johnson) get that game-winning pick.”