By Henry McKenna
FOX Sports AFC East Writer
It’s hard not to come away from the NFL season opener feeling bad for the fans in Miami and New York. Those poor, poor folks.
After two decades of dealing with Tom Brady, the Jets and Dolphins now have Josh Allen to ruin their Sundays (and Mondays and Thursdays). I don’t think Allen is the second coming of Brady. I do think Allen is likely to dominate this division for years to come. Allen certainly supported my argument on Thursday night.
The Buffalo Bills nabbed a 31-10 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams Thursday night as Allen made yet another case that he is the best quarterback in the NFL. The 26-year-old is one of the NFL’s most dangerous dual-threat players, and because of his transcendent talent, he is regularly able to overcome his mistakes and the errors of those around him.
Allen was far from perfect against the Rams, and yet he finished with a game-high 20.1 EPA (expected points added). In other words, he was the biggest reason Buffalo won and was the biggest deciding factor in the game. Yes, he threw a pair of interceptions, with the first bouncing off the hands of Isaiah McKenzie — the receiver’s fault — and the second coming after Allen telegraphed his pass to Jamison Crowder — the quarterback’s fault. To add to those errors, the Bills running backs lost two fumbles.
Had Allen not thrown three touchdowns and rushed for another, the second interception would have been an interesting play to study closely. After all, it was a textbook moment where Icarus flew too close to the sun. In years past, Allen’s biggest weakness has been that his flamethrower arm has led him to occasionally try to fit the ball into a place where he shouldn’t — at a time that’s way too late. He did both on his second interception.
But that play didn’t matter. That mistake didn’t matter.
The same qualities that led him to that mistake — the arm strength and aggressive playing style — were what led to his deep passes to Gabe Davis and Stefon Diggs. And the irony of all of this is that Allen was actually more patient and more conservative than he typically is. Allen pushed the ball downfield for just two deep passes (throws with a depth of target at 20 yards or more). He spent the rest of the night mincing up the defense with short, incisive passes. He was 26 of 31 for 297 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. His average depth of target, which at one point was as low as 4.6 yards per attempt, skyrocketed by the end of game to 7.3.
My favorite pass? Let’s look at Allen’s 10-yarder to Diggs. I know: 10 yards isn’t much. But there’s something beautiful about its simplicity, in part because it’s an entirely defensible play. So smooth. So simple. Take a look.
On a third-and-7 in the second quarter, Allen threw the ball to Diggs’ back shoulder with the timing that can only develop after an absurd amount of work. You don’t want to know how many times they’ve drilled that pass. On the play, Diggs shook cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The play left Ramsey, arguably the best player at his position in the world, on the ground with (metaphorically) broken ankles. When Diggs turned out of his break, he snatched the ball out of the air.
Diggs celebrated the catch on the sideline like it was a touchdown. It was prettier than most touchdowns. It was probably prettier than his touchdown later in the night. But because it was Allen’s longest throw of the night, let’s take a look at that, too.
Again, Ramsey seemed to be in coverage on Diggs. But tricked by Allen’s eyes and mobility, Ramsey faded away from Diggs in zone coverage — and the quarterback made him pay. Diggs flew downfield and all Allen had to do was get him the ball. But because Allen was on the move, he underthrew the pass to Diggs, who tripped on the way into the end zone. It wasn’t beautiful. And yet somehow, it was actually remarkable. Per ESPN’s Seth Walder, Allen was running 13.6 miles per hour at the time of throw, which is the fastest a quarterback has been running on a completion of at least 50 air yards (in the Next Gen Stats era since 2016).
Even when Allen’s plays have an ugly result, he’s often somehow doing something remarkable.
It’s also worth noting that while Allen absolutely recovered from his early mistakes with an impressive second half, he also had a tremendous amount of help from his defense — and the team’s defensive line, in particular. Outside linebacker Von Miller put up two sacks and was a nightmare for Rams tackle Joseph Notebook. Defensive end Gregory Rousseau logged a sack and a tipped pass that ended up intercepted. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips had 1.5 sacks. Even with Ed Oliver sidelined with an apparent injury, the Bills defensive line was dominant — so much so that the rookie cornerbacks, Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam, barely got exposed.
Everyone knows that NFL teams only go so far as their quarterback can get them. Allen went on ESPN after the game and reiterated something he’s been saying all offseason: “Our goal is to win the Super Bowl.” The Bills quarterback looks equipped to help Buffalo achieve that goal.
Henry McKenna covers the AFC East for FOX Sports. He previously spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.
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