Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen completed 23 of 36 attempts for a completion percentage of 63.8% and rushed the ball nine times for 46 yards in a come-from-behind, 21-17 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals. It was his uncanny ability to run and move in the pocket that ultimately made the difference in the final minutes. Allen’s turbulent performance earned him an overall quarterback performance grade of 89%.
On the final seven plays, Allen was 2 of 2, and ran the football on two scrambles and one perfectly executed zone read to seal the victory. Allen's perfect fourth quarter and gutsy movement led the Bills' comeback after nearly giving the game away to the Bengals with a lack of execution and unfortunate interception in the third quarter.
It was evident from the beginning of the game that Allen was not seeing the defense as clearly as he had in his previous two games. Allen struggled throughout and tried to do too much. He was pressing, perhaps overly motivated by the home crowd. But Allen’s dynamic plays ultimately outweighed the negative ones.
Overall grade: 97%
Score: Bills, 8-0
Allen completed 9 of 12 in the first quarter, but several plays highlighted his uneven performance. The Bills went three-and-out on the first drive as Allen was sacked on third-and-8. On the fifth play of the next drive, on second-and-17, Allen was deceived by a zone blitz. The Bengals lined up in a four-man defensive front and showed blitz to Allen’s right. This was a disguise as they quickly dropped the defensive end into coverage and blitzed cornerback Tony McRae off slot receiver Isaiah McKenzie from the other side. Allen was misled and did not see McRae coming from his left.
Allen would have thrown a “sight adjustment” to McKenzie had he seen the unaccounted for McRae. This defensive back pressure should have been countered by a quick throw to McKenzie in the voided area behind the blitzing cornerback. Allen took his eyes off McRae too quickly and did not see the read properly. The result was nearly catastrophic as Allen was hit as he threw the ball. In addition to the missed blitz, Allen had running back Frank Gore open in the flat to his right side but was fixated down the field waiting for a deeper route to uncover.
The very next play, on third-and-17, Allen made one of his highlight reel plays, scrambling to his right to avoid the pressure. He tiptoed the right sideline and drilled an incredible strike to the adjusting, John Brown.
This was one of several dynamic plays that few quarterbacks in the NFL can make, but Allen can thanks to his arm strength and elusiveness. This ability makes Allen believe he can make every play, but that belief can sometimes hurt the team as well.
The idea of the sword cutting both ways is demonstrated on the final play of the drive.
On third-and-2 from the Bengals' 30, Allen was pressured to his right. His immediate reaction was to keep the play alive for as long as he could, trying to stay upright to make another heroic throw. His willingness to sacrifice his body was admirable, but his unwillingness to smartly give up on the play at the correct time cost Buffalo a field goal opportunity. He decided to throw the ball away a second too late and was unable to get it back to the line of scrimmage as he was taken to the ground. Here, Allen’s reckless and heroic style hurt the Bills as the grounding penalty took them out of field goal range.
Performance grade: 84%
Score: Bills, 14-0
Allen was again highly efficient in the second quarter, completing 9 of 15 attempts. On the fourth play of the quarter, on second-and-13, Allen displayed his high-level ability to slide in the pocket and spin out of trouble, completing a pass to tight end Dawson Knox. This was a spectacular maneuver as Allen reversed field and found Knox on the sideline for a first down.
The very next play, on a play-action fake to his left, Allen gets his feet tangled with Frank Gore and falls to the ground.
Against all conventional wisdom and quarterback teachings, he falls, fumbles, regains possession, gets up and throws a completion to Brown. Quarterbacks are taught not to try to do too much on failed plays like this for fear of turning the ball over. Allen had no intention of giving up on the play. He was determined to try to make something amazing happen, and he did. The late throw to Brown got there just in time, but could have also resulted in a disastrous turnover. Instead this act of near lunacy led to a Bills field goal putting Buffalo up 11-0.
Allen’s poor decision on the final play of the half led to a 62-yard missed field goal attempt. Allen was overly eager on first-and-10 from the Bengals' 44 with 14 seconds remaining. He took a long shot down the field to Zay Jones rather than completing the ball under the coverage to open tight end Tommy Sweeney or open running back TJ Yeldon. Coordinator Brian Daboll flooded the coverage to the right side of the field and Allen, rather than reading the play from the “bottom up” or short to deep, decided to attempt a pass into the end zone. He was thinking that he wanted to put a dagger in the heart of the Bengals just before half. A play like this would have blown the top off New Era field, but the failed opportunity to pick up guaranteed yardage cost the Bills three more points.
Allen’s first half was marked with solid efficiency, completing 18 of 27 but also riddled with several poor decisions. Buffalo could have had six more points on the board.
Performance grade: 78%
Score: Bills, 14-7
Following a Andy Dalton interception that gave the Bills excellent field position on the Bengals’ 40-yard line, Allen made an egregious judgement call. The play turned the tides of the game in favor of Cincinnati. On third-and-7, Allen was flushed to his right, almost exactly like the grounding penalty play in the first quarter. Allen was drifting backward to his right and threw the ball hopelessly into the field of play and into the waiting hands of Darius Phillips. This was a giveaway by Allen at a time in the game where Buffalo had an opportunity to capitalize on another Bengals turnover.
Two more plays exemplified Allen’s pressing nature in the third quarter. On first-and-10 during the next drive, Allen should have been intercepted a second time, this time trying to do too much throwing a post route into coverage. Allen forced a post route to Brown off a play-action fake. Cornerback William Jackson was playing zone and “sloughed" off from the opposite corner position nearly intercepting the ball. Allen did not see or account for Jackson from the opposite side of his post throw.
Two plays later on third-and-10, Allen was under duress and missed his easy access shallow cross by Yeldon. Instead, Allen was locked on to Cole Beasley for the entire play. The Bengals were in man-to-man coverage and Yeldon was the first player across the face of the quarterback. This is the “flare control” or safety valve throw for Allen versus any blitz or pressure. Allen did not utilize his outlet and forced the ball to Beasley in coverage.
Performance grade: 100%
Score: Bills, 21-17
With 4:50 remaining and the Bills trailing 17-14, Allen took over on the Bills' final possession on their 22-yard line.
Allen decisively connected with his favorite target Beasley and then found tight end Knox on a corner route that aggressively propelled the Bills down the field to the Bengals' 22 yard. As good as these two throws were by Allen, they were not the highlight of the drive. On the next two plays, Allen’s ability to move, scramble and make plays with his legs made the difference.
On the Bills’ game-winning drive, Allen was 2 for 2 and ran the ball on three of the seven plays. His will to win, or should I say, his refusal to lose was impressively demonstrated in these final minutes. He played with reckless power, possessed by desire, as he had no doubt decided that he was going to find a way to win.
It is this extraordinary talent and ability that Allen has – to will things to happen – that could become his greatest asset if he can find a way to control his reaching tendencies.
Jim Kubiak has been analyzing the play of the Buffalo Bills quarterbacks for BNblitz.com. He is the all-time leading passer at Navy, has played in the NFL, NFL Europe and the Arena Football League, and has been a coach and executive in the AFL. He spent eight years as the radio analyst for the University at Buffalo and runs the Western New York Quarterback Academy to help develop the next generation of quarterbacks.