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Too soon to conclude Josh Allen isn't Bills' franchise QB answer

Vic Carucci

It’s fair to wonder exactly what the Buffalo Bills have in Josh Allen.

What's unfair is pointing to his performance Saturday and concluding that he isn’t a franchise quarterback.

The Bills’ decision-makers won’t do that, and the reason has zero to do with avoiding an admission of a colossal mistake. It's far too early for that conversation.

The first-round investment in Allen requires the Bills give him at least one more season to prove them right ... or wrong.

What can be said with certainty is Allen did not live up to the franchise standard in his playoff debut at Houston. To see what that should look like, all you had to do was watch how his Texans counterpart, Deshaun Watson, carried his team to its 22-19 wild-card victory in overtime.

How Watson, now 1-1 in the postseason, overcame being sacked seven times and constantly pressured. How he somehow managed to pry himself from defenders and make big plays running or throwing on the run. How he basically willed a club with serious deficiencies on defense and key injuries on both sides of the ball to the divisional round next Sunday at Kansas City.

Wide receiver Duke Williams sits on the bench by himself after the Texans beat the Bills at NRG Stadium in Houston on Jan. 4, 2020. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Franchise quarterbacks are supposed to do that, especially under the all-or-nothing circumstances of playoff football.

Allen has much of the same athleticism, speed and explosiveness Watson possesses. On Saturday, he used his mobility and power to make some remarkable plays of his own. His touchdown catch on the flea-flicker that capped an opening drive, during which he also had a 42-yard run, reflected the high-end capability he has shown at various points in the past two years.

Allen has shown the ability to deliver in the clutch, even with his nasty habit of starting slowly.

Another of his nasty habits is being reckless when he runs and throws. On Saturday, he fumbled twice, losing the second to set up a Texans field goal. He nearly threw a pick-six and another pass that should have been intercepted. He took ill-advised sacks.

Allen also made an inexplicable decision to attempt, while in the process of being tackled, an apparent lateral. The awkward heave in the general direction of tight end Dawson Knox looked like something that wouldn't qualify as acceptable in a backyard pick-up game. Allen was fortunate Knox managed to bat the ball backwards and out of bounds to avoid a fumble recovery by the Texans and a penalty. Add an intentional-grounding penalty -- on the same play where he threw a pass that guard Jon Feliciano dropped, leading to an illegal-touch penalty that was declined -- and the list of Allen’s miscues is long enough to raise some troubling questions.

The most obvious: “Is this what a seventh overall draft pick is supposed to look like?”

Moreover, there's the maddening inability of the Bills’ offense to generate touchdowns. Coaching shares some of the responsibility, as do other players’ gaffes.

Mostly, though, it's on Allen, who readily accepted the burden of the offense's anemic showing and made no attempt to hide the crushing disappointment of the outcome Saturday or Sunday, when Bills players packed for the offseason.

"I won’t be over this until we start playing again," Allen told reporters. "Again, I’m very self-driven and I understand things could've went differently. I’m going to learn from it, I’m going to use it and I’m going to grow from it.

"This will be a chip on my shoulder until we start playing again."

The common refrain is that the Bills are fine with him as their starter, but that he needs to “take the next step.” And therein lies the essence of the discussion about Allen.

"Next step” is a convenient catch-all to capture something that isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds.

Allen requires a fairly significant makeover, beginning with the area above his shoulder pads. He has to figure out how to gain better control of his emotions.

It's OK to be excited. His unbridled enthusiasm can be contagious and uplifting to his teammates. It's not OK to allow that excitement to cause him to lose the focus critical to making proper decisions, whether it's where and when to throw, protecting the ball and himself when he's in the pocket and running with the ball, feeling pressure, being more aware of all that surrounds him and tighter with game management.

The Bills' offense struggled mightily in the second half after Texans veteran defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel made adjustments in coverage and his pass-rush scheme that confused the quarterback. Allen has to develop greater understanding of what he sees of opposing defenses before and during games.

Then, there's his accuracy, which remains as large a concern as it was when he was at Wyoming. On Saturday, Allen completed only 52 percent of his passes. That's below his completion percentages for the regular season (58.8) and career (56.3).

He needs to do intensive work on his mechanics, with quarterback guru Jordan Palmer in Allen's native California, and during the Bills' offseason program, with QBs coach Ken Dorsey and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (presuming he doesn't land a head-coaching job elsewhere).

Allen's plans for the offseason sound ambitious.

"A lot I am going to do mechanically," he said. "I'm just trying to shore some things up there, watching more film, more so on myself than anybody else, and just finding out what went good and what went bad and try to give me a real honest self-assessment. And talk with our coaches before we leave here and try to develop a plan of what I need to work on in their eyes, too, and going back to wherever it is and training with my quarterback guy and taking a week or two off and getting back in the weight room and trying to put myself in peak physical condition for OTAs and then training camp and the season.

"It's going to happen quick. That's what happened this offseason and the months tend to fly by and I am anxious to get back practicing again. I wish we were doing that today, but it is what it is."

When it comes to Allen's performance, the phrase "it is what it is" had better not be what becomes the common refrain about him a year from now.

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