Josh Allen made significant strides in his second professional season, but he’s far from a finished product.
That’s a good way to summarize what Buffalo Bills General Manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott had to say about their young quarterback Tuesday during the team’s season-ending press conference.
“He’s made a tremendous amount of progress, let’s start there,” McDermott said. “Let’s recognize the work that this young man has put in and the growth he has shown. Is there still work to do? Yes, and he’d be the first one to tell you that that is the case.”
That was painfully evident during the playoff loss that ended the Bills’ season. Allen made a series of baffling decisions that played a huge part in his team losing, 22-19, to the Houston Texans on Saturday in an AFC wild-card game.
“I have no doubt he is disgusted like we all are that we didn’t finish that game and come out with a win,” Beane said. “You can talk about the playoffs. You can’t simulate it until you play it.”
The biggest issue with Allen’s performance, according to both Beane and McDermott, is a familiar one: A desire to do too much. Allen has a tendency when the offense is struggling to feel like he needs to put the entire team on his back. When he does, he stops playing within himself.
“As you know, he’s a fiery competitor,” Beane said. “I would much rather have those errors than ‘Checkdown Charlie,’ being timid, you know what I’m saying? All those types of things. I’m very proud of Josh. I have no doubt that he’s going to come back an even better version of himself in April.”
Beane is basing that opinion on past experience. He said Allen walked out of last year’s exit meetings with a clear plan on how to improve, then returned in the spring and training camp and carried that over to games. When the front office and coaching staff met with Allen this week, they didn’t even need to go down the list of areas Allen needs to improve, Beane said, because the quarterback already was aware of them.
“He’s improved in a lot of areas,” Beane said. “Is he perfect? Is he where he wants to be? Is he where we want him to be? No. But he’s got the DNA to continue to improve.”
Allen will return to Southern California and resume his work with private quarterbacks coach Jordan Palmer. First, though, McDermott wants the quarterback to get away from football for a while.
“He's a young man that spends a tremendous amount of time in our building,” he said. “Get away, push back a little bit. And then I know he's going to do this, start working on his body first, getting his body healthy, getting his body ready to go as far as strength. I thought he did a good job this year of staying healthy which is No. 1, availability.”
One area Allen must improve going forward is his deep-ball accuracy. It’s far from the only one, though.
“There's plenty for Josh to work on,” McDermott said. “Josh is very aware of that. That's the greatest part about Josh is he's aware of it and he's self-critical. That's a start. He'll take that and combine it with his tremendous work ethic and I think he'll have a great offseason.”
The Bills had several chances to put away the game against the Texans, but settled for field goals instead of touchdowns and ultimately blew a 16-0 lead in the second half, failing to win their first postseason game since 1995. At the most crucial times, the moment looked too big for Allen.
“Again, that’s his first time in the playoffs, and I think he’ll learn from it,” Beane said. “I have not even a doubt he’ll learn from it. I’m as convinced today as ever that Josh will be a better version of himself next year.”
It’s expected that Beane and McDermott would go to bat for their quarterback, as his teammates did after the loss. Now it’s on Allen to show them that faith is well-placed.
2. McDermott went into greater depth than he usually does in discussing what went wrong against the Texans. Here was his explanation of one of the biggest plays in the game – a third-and-18 conversion by the Houston offense in overtime:
“We got too soft in there with underneath coverage, and we had some young players in there that got too deep in the coverage,” he said. “We played zone on third-and-18, which is ... what we believe in to do, and keep the ball in front of us, but we didn't react fast enough and then tackling came into play.
“It's young players in that situation recognizing situational football, taking away the deeper routes that would throw and catch it without the run and get the first down, and being able to react quicker underneath. They made a play and we didn't.”
As for the second-half kickoff, which was originally ruled a touchdown by the Bills after Texans return man DeAndre Carter failed to take a knee in the end zone and flipped the ball to the referee, McDermott said:
“I wish I could go and give our fans an explanation, but I don't want to go there, right now – I can't go there right now. The part I will say is we had a chance to go up 20-0 at that point. It got ruled that way at first and then it got changed, and so I have to stand by and go with what the ruling got changed to. That's the way our league works.”
McDermott went on to say he’s had a conversation with the league office about the play, and was told that the league supported the reversal of the play, which ended up with the Texans taking a touchback and getting the ball at their 25-yard line.
The same goes for the personal foul against rookie right tackle Cody Ford on what looked to be a dubious illegal blindside block penalty.
As for the play clock appearing to expire on Houston before their third-and-18 conversion, McDermott said that situation was not discussed with the league. As the next question was being asked, he went back to address the officiating one last time.
“They stand by their calls. I want to reiterate: We control what we can control, and I want to make it clear for us, for our team, and our fan base, that is not why we lost the game,” he said. “We take responsibility, I take ownership and responsibility as the head coach, and we move forward. We need to play and coach better. That should not come into play.”
The Bills had multiple opportunities to win the game despite the officiating errors. Good on the head coach for recognizing his team’s shortcomings and taking ownership. That’s what a leader does.
3. Both McDermott and Beane singled out retiring linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, thanking him for his contributions during their opening statements.
"I do want to take a moment to express my appreciation and respect for Lorenzo Alexander and his family and the job that he’s done as a leader on and off the field and in our community here in Western New York,” McDermott said. “That goes a long way and he’s been a tremendous asset to me as the head coach in connecting my message to the locker room and I just wanted to take a minute to wish him well and thank him for everything he’s done over the last couple of years.”
Beane was on the Carolina Panthers’ staff in 2005 when Alexander broke into the league as a 315-pound defensive tackle.
"To see him develop into a man and what he became — talk about reinventing yourself — I don't know anybody that’s played in the league that started as a D-tackle and finished as a linebacker,” Beane said. “And then off the field, what he did and what his family brought to this community, second to none and will be missed. Talking to Lorenzo, he sent me a note yesterday and he still wants to be a part of this community, that’s how much this community means to him and his family, so I think we’ll all be blessed with that.”
4. McDermott is in the process of evaluating his team, including his coaching staff, but said he does not anticipate making any changes at this point.
Of course, that could change if offensive coordinator Brian Daboll gets the Browns' head-coaching job. Daboll interviewed in Cleveland on Monday. The Browns are the last team in the NFL with a head-coaching vacancy.
"I'm not going to talk about Brian with Cleveland, I’m going to talk about our football team and where we’re trying to go," McDermott said. "We all have to get better and that starts with me and it goes right into the rest of my coaching staff and to the players. That continuity is important with Josh and our coaching staff but it's also important in other areas of our team as well. We’ve got some thoughts on where we need to improve and certainly continuity is important, not only from coach to player but coach to coach, player to player and the list goes on. The more we’re around each other, the more continuity, and we talk about keeping this team as intact as possible and that certainly helps you."