When the Baltimore Ravens visit the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at New Era Field, it will be the second time Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson have opposed each other as NFL quarterbacks.
It’s forgivable if you’re forgetting the first.
Allow us to refresh your memory: Allen and the Bills opened the 2018 season in Baltimore. It was a game all involved on the Buffalo side would like to forget. Nathan Peterman – remember him? – started for the Bills in a driving rainstorm, but couldn’t make it to the fourth quarter. Peterman went 5 for 18 for 24 yards and two interceptions – a perfectly imperfect 0.0 passer rating. Mercifully, he was benched midway through the third quarter after the Bills fell behind, 40-0. That meant Allen made his professional debut in what would end up a 47-3 Baltimore victory. Jackson also made his debut, coming into in a much different circumstance just 1:21 of game time later.
“We got our butts whooped that game,” Allen recalled this week. “I remember the rain coming down and it being a pretty messy game. I remember watching Lamar go out there a few times and make some plays.”
Fast forward just 15 months, and that first meeting feels like a lifetime ago.
“As far as what we’re doing on offense, who we have on offense, I mean, we have maybe two guys, myself included, that are on the offense that played in that game last year,” Allen said.
It’s actually a few more than that, but not by much. The only other players to appear for the Bills on offense in that 2018 season opener who are still on the team are left tackle Dion Dawkins, fullback Patrick DiMarco and wide receiver Robert Foster.
Four players who started that game for Buffalo – wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, right guard Vlad Ducasse, center Ryan Groy and wide receiver Jeremy Kerley – are no longer in the NFL. Another four are backups or part-time starters elsewhere: Peterman and wide receiver Zay Jones in Oakland, running back LeSean McCoy in Kansas City, tight end Charles Clay and right tackle Jordan Mills in Arizona. Just one is a full-time starter somewhere else: Guard John Miller with the Bengals.
“It's a whole different team, whole different mentality,” said Dawkins, who was the only member of this year’s team to start the 2018 season opener. “It feels longer (than just last season), and it makes you feel older. Everybody on the O-line is different except for me. It's really crazy.”
The Ravens have also gone through plenty of changes offensively from that time, starting with Jackson unseating Joe Flacco as the franchise quarterback. Of the 11 players who started on the Ravens’ offense last year in the season opener, five of them are no longer with the team and one of them is on injured reserve. One of those players is current Bills receiver John Brown.
Constant roster churning is the nature of the business in the NFL, but the Bills took that to the extreme last offseason.
"It's amazing how things change," Foster said. "I'm happy to still be here."
“I mean, it's a new team,” DiMarco said. “There are what, three or four guys from our offense last year that are still on the roster this year? From that standpoint, that's one of those games you want to forget about real quick. That game happened, we moved on. … This year, we're just taking it game by game. We're excited for this challenge. It's a very similar defense. We know what we're going to get. It's just about going out there and executing.”
Over the past three weeks, the Bills have done that better than at any point in 2019. That’s a big reason why those three games have all been victories.
“We do a lot of different things on offense compared to where we were at last year,” DiMarco said. “We're more dynamic. We can do a lot of things. If we need to throw the ball to win, if we need to run the ball to win, we've shown we've been able to do everything. We just need to go out there and play our game, dictate the tempo.”
That, of course, starts with Allen. While Jackson is likely the front-runner for the NFL’s MVP award, Allen’s numbers over the past eight games aren’t all that different. Take a look:
During the Ravens’ eight-game winning streak, Jackson is 127 of 188 (67.6%) for 1,422 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s also rushed 104 times for 739 yards and six touchdowns.
In Allen’s last eight games, during which the Bills have gone 6-2, he’s 146 of 235 (62.1%) for 1,688 yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s also rushed 62 times for 299 yards and five touchdowns.
“Josh is learning and Josh is becoming what he's supposed to be,” Dawkins said. “It's just a pleasant sight to be here and witness it and be a part of what the kid is doing.”
Both quarterbacks are a long way from their respective debuts last season. Allen went 6 of 15 for 74 yards in place of Peterman that day, leading the Bills to their only points. Jackson completed 1 of 4 passes for 24 yards and rushed seven times for 39 yards.
“It seems like so long ago and I really can't describe it,” Allen said. “We were down a lot, but I still remember going out there just trying to make plays for my team. Really, nothing’s changed in that aspect.”
“Shoot, those were his first-ever regular-season game snaps,” DiMarco said. “That's not fun when you come in and you're down 30 or whatever we were. Then you get your chance, and you're fighting an uphill battle. But Josh has grown so much as a player and as a leader. He's shown he deserves to be in this league and he's going to be here for a long time. I'm really excited to see him go out there and compete this week.”
Jackson and Allen will forever be linked as part of the NFL’s 2018 quarterback class. While their individual successes are a big storyline heading into Sunday’s game, it’s what their teams have been able to accomplish that is more important to each quarterback.
The winner of Sunday’s game will have a great (in Baltimore’s case) or good (in Buffalo’s case) chance at finishing with the No. 1 overall seed and home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
“It’s just kind of surreal to now be in the position that I’m in,” Allen said. From the 2018 season opener to now, “felt like night and day as far as football perspective, knowledge of the game, knowledge of my own offense.”
Running back T.J. Yeldon and left guard Quinton Spain did not practice Thursday for the Bills. Both of them are dealing with an illness, McDermott said. Right tackle Ty Nsekhe (ankle) also missed his second straight practice.
McDermott confirmed the Bills did indeed put a waiver claim in for kicker Chase McLaughlin, who was with the team during training camp. That claim was unsuccessful because the Indianapolis Colts, who have a worse record, also put in a claim.
“It's just about, just like any position, us continuing to try and add players to our team that we feel like could help us,” McDermott said when asked what the waiver claim meant for the team’s current kicker, the struggling Stephen Hauschka.
My cause, my cleats
The NFL’s third annual “My Cause, My Cleats” weekend will allow hundreds of players throughout the league to showcase causes that are important to them through custom cleats. Here are the Bills who are participating, and the charities and/or causes they are raising awareness and support for:
Josh Allen – Oishei Children’s Hospital
Lorenzo Alexander – Youth education and resources
Matt Barkley – High school sports and wellness
Ike Boettger – University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital
Jordan Poyer and Corey Bojorquez – Pediatric cancer
Jerry Hughes and Reid Ferguson – Military appreciation
Stephen Hauschka – The “Hauschpups” program benefiting the SPCA Serving Erie County
Micah Hyde – Youth sports funding and participation
Corey Liuget – Heart health and childhood education
Trent Murphy – The Venison Donation Coalition Inc.
Harrison Phillips – The American Dairy Association and children with developmental differences
Levi Wallace – ALS Association