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.
Josh Allen completed 24 passes of 46 attempts (52%) for 264 yards, and had nine rushes for 92 yards in a dramatic AFC wild-card playoff loss to the Houston Texans, 22-19.
Allen played and executed at times as one of the premier players in the game, striding down the field and nearly outrunning the Houston secondary in the first quarter. Allen also played and executed at times like a man who wasn't aware of the situation or his situational responsibilities.
He played with championship caliber grit but a worrisome lack of discipline at times.
The thrilling fourth-quarter drive to tie the game and send it to overtime, demonstrated that powerful surge of emotion from Allen that we have come to admire. But it came on the heels of several epic mistakes that seemingly had taken the Bills out of the game with less than two minutes remaining.
Allen's overall quarterback performance grade in the game was 85%.
Play selection: 14 plays – eight passes, five runs.
Allen: 5 for 7 passing for 29 yards, one carry for 42 yards, one reception for 16 yards and a touchdown.
Quarterback Performance Grade: 96%
Score: Bills, 7-0
The Bills were flawless on the opening drive, marching down the field in six plays and scoring the first touchdown of the game. Allen was 1 for 1 on the possession, completing his first pass to Devin Singletary on a swing route from the backfield to his left. He also ran a perfectly executed 42-yard quarterback sweep down the right sideline. He nearly scored on the play, and took the ball to the Texans' 20-yard line.
Two plays later, Allen pitched the ball to John Brown sweeping to the right. Allen reversed his field and was running down the opposite sideline unaccounted for. This play was known as "pitch right quarterback throwback, whoop-dee-doo" in my collegiate football life at the Naval Academy. Brown and Allen executed a version of the whoop-dee-doo quarterback throwback concept to perfection, again utilizing Allen's elite athleticism.
By the time the first series of the game had been completed, Allen had become the first quarterback in playoff history to have both a 40-yard run and a touchdown reception in a game.
Play selection: 23 plays – 13 passes, 10 runs.
Allen: 8 for 13 passing for 102 yards; two carries for 10 yards.
Quarterback Performance Grade: 100%.
Score: Bills, 13-0.
The Bills ran 23 offensive plays in a productive second quarter. The first nine-play drive ended in a Bills' field goal, which increased the Bills lead to 10-0. The next offensive possession was a 14-play drive, which also ended in a field goal giving the Bills a 13-0 lead at the half.
Allen was 4 of 6 on third downs in the quarter.
On third-and-8 from the Bills' 18, Allen demonstrated his uncanny ability to move in the pocket and make plays completing an incredibly powerful throw to Duke Williams. There aren't many quarterbacks that would attempt, much less complete a difficult throw like that. Allen slid and shuffled up in the pocket to his right and drilled one of his most impressive throws of the year to the left side of the field to a tightly covered Williams.
Two plays later, Allen again demonstrated wonderful poise and patience, finding Brown in the flat. The impressive nature of this throw was not the throw itself, but the circumstances surrounding the situation. Buffalo had two timeouts as the clock was running with less than a minute to play. The Bills were on the Texans' 39-yard line and trying to get into field-goal range.
Allen knew the situation on first-and-15 and skillfully took what the defense gave, hitting an open Brown under the coverage. Brown gained 7 yards and most importantly, got himself out of bounds.
Allen completed a 6-yard pass to Cole Beasley and a 3-yard pass to Devin Singletary before a timeout with 30 seconds left. A 1-yard run by Frank Gore, then an Allen spike and a deep shot into the right corner of the end zone that was incomplete to Williams led to Hauschka's 40-yard field goal with four seconds remaining.
Play selection: 13 plays – five passes, seven runs, one sack.
Allen: 3 for 5 passing for 33 yards; two carries for 20 yards.
Quarterback Performance Grade: 92%.
Score: Bills, 16-8.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll started the Bills' first possession of the second half with a creative quarterback pin-and-pull play for Allen. Left tackle Dion Dawkins pinned the defensive end on a down block, while center Mitch Morse and left guard Quinton Spain pulled around to the left to kick out and lead up into the hole for 19 yards. But the drive stalled and the Bills had to punt.
The Bills got three more points on an eight-play drive after Allen was sacked and lost 8 yards on third-and-8 from the Texans' 16. The Texans' offense scored their first touchdown of the game and subsequent two-point conversion, which took the game to 16-8.
On the next offensive drive, with 1:33 remaining in the quarter, Allen again demonstrated tremendous poise and accuracy zipping a beautiful in-route to Williams off of a play-action fake for 20 yards.
Allen made these types of throws look easy. He was fluid, comfortable, anticipating and seeing the openings before they occurred. He played at times in this game like a cagey and grizzled veteran, but then there were times that he didn't.
Play selection: 24 plays – 14 passes, seven runs, two sacks, one fumble.
Allen: 5 for 14 passing for 71 yards; two carries for 21 yards.
Quarterback Performance Grade: 72%.
Score: Tie, 19-19
Allen's end game was riddled with a fumble and several nearly catastrophic and highly unusual quarterback decisions. Allen's fumble occurred on third-and-8 from the Bills' 47 as he was stepping up in pocket.
In this situation, Allen's normal reaction would have been to take off and run. On this particular play, he hesitated to buy an extra moment to survey down the field. This momentary delay, prior to taking off on one of his patented runs, allowed the pursuit to knock the ball out of Allen's hands. The costly turnover resulted in the Texans adding a field goal to trim the deficit to 16-11.
On the next possession, on third-and-4, Allen's throwing arm was hit by J.J. Watt and his pass was directed off target and incomplete. Initially, it appeared as though Allen simply missed the open receiver. but, as seen in the video below, Watt grazes Allen's throwing arm enough to send the football off target.
The Texans scored again on their next possession. Trailing 19-16, the Bills had one final regulation opportunity to win, or tie with a field goal.
Allen impressively marched Buffalo from their own 25 to the Texans' 28-yard line, which was in field goal range to tie the game. On third-and-10, in field goal range and with the season on the line, Allen seemed unaware and committed a quarterback cardinal sin.
In this situation, quarterbacks are taught at all costs not to take a sack. Taking a sack in this situation loses yardage and takes the team out of range while the clock continues to move. Allen should have been prepared for this triple negative play, thinking and preparing for his response to a failed block or a breakdown in protection. He needed to be prepared for a throw-away in the event that something unexpected happened. He was not, and in the midst of realizing his catastrophic mistake, he exacerbated the folly by attempting to throw it away while in the clutches of the defense, at a time when it was too late. Allen's desperate attempt, with no receiver in sight, resulted in the most unfavorable outcome of a 15-yard penalty and loss of down.
The following play, on fourth-and-27, Allen was sacked. This fourth down was all or nothing, and Allen was scrambling for his life.
Allen was given one final opportunity to tie or win the game in regulation with 1:16 remaining.
On the first play of the drive, Allen made one of his mad scrambles down the field, yet as he was being tackled in Texans territory close to field -goal range, he made a strange and unlikely play.
Allen must have been thinking that he had to make a heroic, unplanned and ill-advised play to win the game. In doing so, he defied every football coaching norm by trying to pitch the ball to a teammate. The intentional act of trying to make a superhero play like this, at this critical time in the game, was honestly quite worrisome, as it flew in the face of anything a quarterback has ever been taught to do.
"Trying to do too much and getting a little bit maybe just extreme with what he felt like we needed at the time like the one lateral on their sideline or whatever it was there" is how coach Sean McDermott described it.
Despite Allen's loss of composure on the play, he regained his senses despite a run of incompletions and ultimately led the Bills to a game-tying field goal.
Play selection: 9 plays – seven passes, two runs.
Allen: 3 for 7 passing for 29 yards, three carries for 7 yards.
Quarterback Performance Grade: 66%
Score: Texans, 22-19.
Allen's overtime performance was shaky due in large part to a failed quarterback sweep. The sweep was a good call, and if executed properly, could have resulted in a huge gain.
Unfortunately, Dawson Knox missed the block on Zach Cunningham. This missed block and subsequent defensive penetration resulted in a crushing blow to Allen, who seemed shaken.
Allen missed the final two throws of the game, just off the mark, and was not to be able to regain his composure following the jarring blow.
What just happened?
As Allen's quarterly grades throughout the game suggests, his play was erratic, shifting from amazing at times to abysmal at others. Allen's failure in the critical situations at the end of the game demonstrated his lack of experience and his need to grow in the situational aspects of the game. The young quarterback has to be more disciplined to prevent the negative plays, and protect the football.
Certainly, Daboll or McDermott never coached Allen to try to lateral the football while going to the ground with a minute remaining, approaching field goal range. That was an extraordinarily poor quarterback decision, and fortunately the lateral-fumble was swatted out of bounds.
Allen tried to do something out of touch with the situation, and although it was not the correct approach, we all know Allen did it because of his enormous desire to lead his team to victory.
The double-edged sword cuts both ways. We must think about our goals and take the correct, planned action to achieve the outcomes we desire. Allen had opportunities that he was seemingly not ready for. Allen's incredible year, his tremendous heart and his toughness could not overcome his lack of situational awareness, his lack of experience and his inconsistencies under duress. His valiant efforts fell short in a game that we will all remember.
This difficult moment of pain, suffering and failure for Allen and the Bills will no doubt be a catalyst that will result in a more prepared Allen. These moments are like a solar eclipse, the moon temporarily blocks the sun's light, but only for a moment, as Allen's future on the other side, with continued growth and development is very bright.