If you’re looking for something promising, something to provide hope for the Buffalo Bills in 2019 and beyond, you got it Sunday.
Josh Allen provided a ton of it with his passing and running in the Buffalo Bills’ 42-17 victory against the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field.
Perhaps the rookie still has more to prove about whether he’ll be the long-term franchise quarterback the Bills expected when they made him the seventh overall pick of the draft.
But Sunday’s season finale – albeit against a Miami team that seemed unprepared and unmotivated with the firing of coach Adam Gase a distinct possibility – offered immense encouragement. Allen threw for 224 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 95 yards and two scores on nine carries in the greatest performance of his rookie year.
“We’re building something special here,” fullback Patrick DiMarco said. “Watching Josh do what he did is super encouraging, and I think there’s great things ahead for this organization.”
With a 6-10 finish to a season that was technically over when the Bills were eliminated from the playoffs with three games left, all that is left is to look down the road. When LeSean McCoy does that, he can’t help but smile.
“He has a bright future,” McCoy, who had a nine-yard scoring run on an otherwise quiet rushing day, said of Allen. “Put the right pieces around him, and it’s going to be dangerous.”
One of Allen’s completions was a nine-yarder to defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who was playing the final game of his 13-year NFL career.
Williams’ first pro catch put the topper on a gamelong celebration that began with his being the last player introduced and greeted by his wife and their five children at midfield, and continued with tributes from several former teammates shown on the stadium’s video screens.
“It was fun to watch Josh go out there and kind of dazzle up,” DiMarco said. “From a rookie to the old guy, to send Kyle off the right way, it was pretty cool.”
Yes, Allen’s passing was a little uneven. He had an ugly pick-six and some other misfires. In that regard, Allen still looked very much like a rookie.
Yet, he more than made up for it with the dynamic talent that he has shown throughout the year. It was clear that by season’s end, he had elevated his passing skills thanks, in no small part, to the guidance he received from coaches such as offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Derek Anderson.
“I definitely think I’ve made a lot of progress this year, having the help that I have had,” said Allen, who completed 17 of 26 attempts and had a passer rating of 114.9. “Coach Daboll has done a great job, Coach Culley, and bringing in Matt and DA, they’ve been great for me. They’ve really opened my eyes to a different side of football.
“I feel like I’m seeing things a lot better, and I think that growth is going to continue, having those guys in the locker room with me. I’m just proud of our guys for how we played today and looking forward to building on it.”
Jason Croom was proud of the way his quarterback responded to having a pass that was intended for the tight end intercepted by Reshad Jones and returned 29 yards for a touchdown that tied the game at 14-14 just before halftime.
"We had a bad play, and we came back and we put up more points," Croom said. "He just showed it doesn't matter what's happening to us, we're able to handle it."
After a three-game stretch when Allen averaged 112 yards per game rushing, he spent most of the last two games relying more on his throwing. Not surprisingly, he went back to his running ways Sunday; the Dolphins were victims of his season-best 135-yard rushing day Dec. 12.
Allen’s 30-yard touchdown run that gave the Bills a 35-17 lead early in the fourth quarter was a display of speed and explosiveness that would make many running backs envious.
Allen finished the season with 18 touchdowns, the most by a rookie quarterback in franchise history. His eight rushing touchdowns equaled a franchise record.
“I’m excited for next year,” safety Micah Hyde said. “We’ve been practicing against him, we see flashes of greatness that he’s been showing and getting on the field and going out there competing, showing heart, motivating guys. Bright, bright future around this place.”
The Bills’ defense also ended the season on a high note by forcing four turnovers that resulted in 21 points.
There are still lingering questions. The team is far from solidified at tight end and at wide receiver, with a group that figures to see major turnover in the offseason after Zay Jones, who caught two touchdown passes Sunday. The offensive line needs an overhaul. And running back looms as a question mark, even if Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane insist McCoy will be back and a focal point of next year’s offense, and McCoy himself says he’s “very optimistic” about next season with the Bills.
Still, as critical as quarterback is to a team’s fortunes, it’s fair to say this club has made tremendous progress at the position since last January’s wild-card playoff loss at Jacksonville. Then, there was all sorts of uncertainty, which culminated with the eventual trade of Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland.
Now, the Bills have someone around whom they will continue building. Allen remains a work in progress, but as he showed Sunday, there is plenty with which to work.
“We started talking about next year as soon as the game was over with, because we're in a bad situation right now,” Hyde said. “Obviously, we’re not going to the playoffs, but I’m so excited for (Allen), I’m so excited for what the offense is going to bring and I’m excited for this defense.”
Meanwhile, if opposing defenses weren’t already put on notice about the multidimensional skills of the rookie quarterback, they absolutely were with Sunday’s game.
“We’ve got to deal with that in training camp next year, and that's going to be tough, it really is,” Hyde said. “He can do it all. He can run, pass. He can make any throw on the field. And he’s going to know the playbook way better next year, so he’s definitely going to be a huge threat for us.”