NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Even after entering concussion protocol, Josh Allen was clear-minded enough to see what everyone else saw in the Buffalo Bills' 16-10 loss against the New England Patriots.
"I'm not going to sugarcoat it," he said. "I didn't play good last week. I put the ball in harm's way too many times."
Allen was standing behind a lectern in the visitor's interview room at Nissan Stadium after Sunday's 14-7 victory against the Tennessee Titans. Because he had been in concussion protocol until Saturday – thanks to a helmet-to-helmet blow from Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones – those were among the first words the Bills' quarterback spoke to the media since his three-interception disaster that did the most to toss away a gift-wrapped victory against the Patriots.
Their significance went beyond Allen accepting the heaping pile of blame directed at him for seven days, criticism that rightfully called into question whether the Bills, in fact, finally have the right guy to be their franchise QB.
They showed that he might very well be coming to a realization of what the 2019 Bills are all about: a team that can consistently win on the strength of its defense as long as the offense takes care of the ball. It's a formula that, given the softness through most of the remaining schedule, could very well carry them from 4-1 to a playoff berth.
Allen didn't go overboard in beating himself up for the New England game. In fact, he actually thought there was plenty of good that came out of it for his development. "I think it was one of those games where it was almost needed," he said. "I learned a lot from it."
The biggest lesson of all is that Allen and the rest of the team have a chance to go a long way this season as long as he plays the sort of complementary football he played against the Titans.
Against a strong, well-coached defense, Allen's numbers were hardly gaudy. He completed 23 of 32 passes – a completion percentage of 71.9, the best of his career – for 219 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. The turnover set up the Titans' lone scoring drive.
"I think, you take away one throw, that was the best overall game I've played so far," Allen said. "So there's progress there, trusting the five guys in front of me, trusting the receivers to go get open, I felt comfortable in the pocket. And our defense, again, played outstanding. That's something we know they're going to do, week in and week out."
He went out of his way to offer the stat that perfectly captured his point: In 16 NFL starts, he's 8-1 when he has one turnover or fewer.
It didn't hurt that the Bills got more than their share of breaks. Titans kicker Cairo Santos missed three field goals and had a fourth blocked. Tennessee also had two touchdowns erased by penalties. "One of my great mentors – the late, great (Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator) Jim Johnson – always said, 'You need some luck,' " Bills coach Sean McDermott said. "And he was right."
You need balance, as well, something the Bills displayed as much as in any of their games since Allen took over last year.
At 36 and in his 13th NFL season, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander serves as both the Bills' most prominent leader and, to a large extent, their conscience. He saw his young quarterback take an important step Sunday.
"I think he understands it's not all on him and he has a great supporting cast," Alexander said. "I think the biggest thing he's learning is he doesn't have to do it all himself. And it's a thin line, because you're a great player and you want to make the big play, but also you've got to understand that you've got guys that have your back. So the best play sometimes is to throw it away or get your three yards and get down, and come back and play the next because we're going to get the ball back for you."
That's the definition of when doing less is actually doing more.
This isn't to suggest Allen should never seek to carry the the Bills on his passing arm, when necessary, or by using those legs (provided he figures out how to properly slide, which remains an issue). Franchise quarterbacks must be able to rise to the occasion and single-handedly deliver victories, because that's the nature of their role. Allen can't be afraid to do that when it makes sense.
"He's a guy that's going to continue to shoot his shot," Alexander said.
But the Bills have an exceptionally strong defense capable of keeping the best of opposing quarterbacks (ask Tom Brady) in check. They also can close out games with a strong running game, as they did Sunday with a final drive that produced 52 yards, including Allen's 5-yard run on third-and-3 from the Titans' 24 with 1:05 left (before two kneeldowns) to seal the outcome.
When the Bills watch video of this game, they won't merely do so with an eye toward correcting mistakes. They can also admire what they accomplished, because it's the sort of win that is likely to matter a great deal as the postseason race heats up.
"We're in a great spot," Alexander said. "There's not too many times that you're 4-1 going into the bye and then coming back for three home games. So you have an opportunity to really start separating yourself. You've got to take them as they come, but this is a great win for our confidence."
It's also a great example for Allen about what happens when he allows others to help carry the load.