A season of firsts will end Sunday for Josh Allen with the Buffalo Bills’ rookie quarterback having one more new experience: Facing a defense for the second time.
An elbow injury knocked Allen out of the Bills’ first game against both the New England Patriots and New York Jets, meaning the Week 17 visit by the Miami Dolphins will be the first time Allen will see the same team twice in a season.
“There’s a lot you can take out of that experience … with the film, watching yourself play against that team, watching how they defended you the first time, how we may anticipate them defending him the second time,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “I don’t want to say it’s easy. Nothing in this league is easy, but it certainly gives you a starting off point as you go into the week.”
Allen’s brief experience against the Dolphins is memorable. He played one of the best games of his rookie season – going 18 of 33 for 231 yards and two touchdowns – but made a few crucial mistakes that included two interceptions in a 21-17 loss.
“There were a few plays that slipped away from us, myself included, and we’re looking forward to getting back on the field and playing these guys again, because it was a tough one to take last time in Miami,” Allen said. “It was a tough loss and I know the guys in here want to get back on the field.”
Allen just missed a chance to pull off a fourth-quarter comeback in the first meeting with Miami. He made an outstanding play to scramble around and buy time on a fourth-and-11 play at the Dolphins’ 30-yard line with just over a minute remaining, but his pass intended for tight end Charles Clay fell incomplete.
“I relived it a few times and daydreamed about it,” Allen said. “It’s one of those plays where if you had it, you maybe win the game. We didn’t have it and I look back on it and I should’ve made a better throw, could’ve, should’ve. It didn’t happen that way. That moment was definitely a learning moment. I definitely think we’re a better team since that game and it’s time to go back out on Sunday and kind of prove that.”
Allen torched the Dolphins on the ground in the first meeting, gaining 135 yards on just nine carries. That left quite an impression on Miami coach Adam Gase.
“He’s so much more comfortable ever since he’s come back from injury,” Gase said this week on a conference call with Western New York media members. “Now that he’s kind of realized that he is a big man for a quarterback, he does have speed to be able to beat people, him being able to run really can tighten a lot of teams up because the last thing you want to do is keep giving first downs up to him as a runner. Now, what that does is those passing lanes become a little cleaner.”
With a win Sunday, Allen’s record when he starts and finishes a game would improve to 5-5.
“Every experience he has gotten this year has been valuable for Josh,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said Thursday. “And this one’s going to be, too. He’s playing the Dolphins for the second time, which is the first time he’s been able to do that. … His relationship with the offensive line and the calls and the things he has to do, the relationship with the receivers – the passing game is a result of repetition and trust, regardless of wherever I’ve been.”
There is just one opportunity left for that trust to be built before the calendar flips to 2019.
“We for sure want to end on a good note,” Allen said. “We want to go into the offseason with a victory and some confidence going into the offseason, still continuing to build that trust and relationship with everybody on this team. It went by extremely fast and I hate to see the season end so quickly. We’re on Week 17 and we’ve got to continue to learn and grow.”
That’s why the Bills would take issue with classifying Sunday’s season finale as “meaningless.”
“Continued growth, continued opportunities to put our best foot forward and grow this young football team,” McDermott said of what the team can take out of it. “We play a certain way and that’s up to our standard. That’s our goal every week, whether we’re playing on a Sunday afternoon for the playoffs, or we’re playing on a Sunday afternoon when we don’t have a chance to get into the playoffs, which is the case this season.
“I understand that this is part of the climb. This is part of it as you go through it. Not everything is going to be exactly how you wanted it to be, but it’s people who persevere through seasons like this, knowing that this is part of getting things in this organization turned in the right direction and trying to keep it there. That’s a process and so I want to see us come out and play well, I want to see us focus. Sometimes, it’s as big of a mental challenge as it is a physical challenge. That’s what I’m looking for.
The Bills’ injury report was unchanged Thursday. Linebacker Julian Stanford (ankle) and wide receiver Deonte Thompson (toe) did not practice for a second straight day. Cornerback Ryan Lewis (concussion) was a limited participant, while running back Chris Ivory (shoulder) again practiced fully.