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Analysis

Bills QB Josh Allen couldn't pick worse time to have his worst game

Vic Carucci

Abysmal doesn't begin to describe Josh Allen's performance Sunday.

This was a game that demanded, at the very most, he take his game to the highest rung of a relatively short NFL career ladder and, at the very least, keep mistakes to a minimum.

Allen did neither before leaving the Buffalo Bills' 16-10 loss against the New England Patriots early in the fourth quarter after a helmet-to-helmet hit. He was placed in concussion protocol, meaning he was not made available to speak with reporters.

Had Allen met with the media, the line of questioning wouldn't have been confined to what happened at the end of his 7-yard run on third-and-eight from the Patriots' 45 with 14:26 left on the clock.

While Allen was sandwiched between defenders, cornerback Jonathan Jones lowered his helmet squarely into Allen's, putting the quarterback down for several minutes as medical staff tended to him. It was a flagrant cheap shot and Jones drew an unnecessary roughness penalty, but amazingly wasn't ejected. The infraction also didn't count because of an offsetting holding penalty on the Bills.

As much as Allen warrants sympathy for being subjected to such a dangerous hit and his coach, Sean McDermott, and teammates expressed anger over Jones being allowed to stay in the game, Allen still had plenty for which to answer. In short, he was the primary reason for the Bills blowing a golden chance to conquer the Patriots, who now have beaten the Bills six times in a row and 34 of the last 39 since 2000.

On a day when the Bills' defense was phenomenal, holding the Patriots to one touchdown and forcing seven three-and-out possessions, Allen went off the rails in ways not seen in any previous pro outing, including 11 starts as a rookie last season. In fact, comparing what Allen did Sunday to a rookie-like showing would be an insult to rookies.

He threw three interceptions, resulting in nine points for the Patriots and giving him six in four games. He could have had a fourth turnover Sunday, on a fumble, but teammate Cody Ford recovered. Allen's streak of passing for at least 200 yards came to an end at seven consecutive games. Jim Kelly holds the Bills' record with eight.

Allen also was just as horrific with his accuracy, repeatedly overthrowing receivers on the way to completing 13 of 28 passes for 153 yards. He had a career-low passer rating of 24.0 when Matt Barkley took over for the rest of the game. Barkley did OK under the circumstances, but he, too, threw an interception and his lack of mobility made him even more vulnerable to the Patriots' blitzing.

McDermott was a bit more blunt than usual in his assessment of Allen.

"He didn't take what the defense was giving him," the coach said. "And he's got to learn from that. So, we're going to continue to drill that home."

It's easy to dismiss Allen's dreadful play as a function of facing a defense that hadn't allowed a touchdown in its previous three games.

It's easy to say he merely fell victim to the strategic wizardry of Bill Belichick, who has a long history of making young quarterbacks look foolish by forcing them to make errors through a combination of alignments, coverages and the sheer brilliant scheming that the best coach in NFL history can do.

On more than a few occasions, Allen seemed uncertain and/or confused as he dropped back. There were multiple times he looked hesitant before releasing the ball and would float a pass, making it ripe to be picked off.

There also were multiple times when he appeared conflicted about whether to run and what direction to go. That helped lead to one sack that took the Bills out of field-goal range and another that resulted in a longer-than-necessary try, from 49 yards, that Stephen Hauschka missed.

But the Patriots/Belichick factor doesn't explain everything.

Remember, Allen is the same quarterback who was part of a four-turnover first half in the Bills' come-from-behind win against the New York Jets on opening day. He's also the same quarterback who had an atrocious interception before rallying the Bills to victory against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3. In 15 career starts, Allen has thrown 18 interceptions.

It's fair to say Sunday was part of a reckless trend the Bills had been finding a way to overcome, thanks to their defense and Allen's ability to come through in the clutch. McDermott made no effort to dodge the fact his QB continues to violate the No. 1 rule in the coach's book: Take care of the football.

McDermott has mentioned it countless times since becoming the Bills' coach in 2017. Clearly, the message isn't getting through to Allen.

"It's absolutely something we have to continue to harp on," McDermott said. "And he has to continue to learn. He's a young quarterback and sometimes they have to learn those lessons, those hard lessons, and we have to continue to coach it up."

It's also worth noting that Allen did lead one impressive drive Sunday. It came at the start of the third quarter, when the Bills went to a hurry-up offense that kept the Patriots off-balance through a nine-play, 75-yard drive that he capped with a 1-yard touchdown run.

McDermott thought Allen showed more willingness on that drive to capitalize on opportunities the Patriots were giving him to make plays.

"When we did move the ball in the first drive of the second half, you saw some of that," McDermott said. "So he's got to learn from that."

Perhaps the greatest lesson that has yet to sink in with Allen is understanding that there must be a balance between the aggressive mentality that can lead to big plays but can also be his undoing.

As McDermott said, "We have to continue to make that very clear, with where that line is."

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