Part I: The Pressure is on Josh Allen

The Bills were closer than anyone realizes to drafting Patrick Mahomes. Now, Josh Allen — a quarterback unlike any other — is the one who must deliver a Super Bowl to Buffalo. Can he?

There is more pressure on Josh Allen than any player in professional football.

Honestly, it’s not even close.

First, consider the state of his congregation. Buffalo Bills fans, for generations, have been wired to expect the worst. Being so consumed by imminent doom is not healthy, no, but here — where football is religion — such a sixth sense for a season taking a dark turn for the worse isn’t just a hunch. It’s heredity. Four straight Super Bowl losses, a Music City Miracle and a 17-year playoff drought will do that.

Until now. Until 2020.

Until this quarterback completely mutated that gene and made it OK to believe.

Everyone associated with the Bills — from Sean McDermott to all faithful servants pounding Cajun-Honey Butter BBQ wings at Bar Bill — is overwhelmed with hope because the Bills, Your Bills, are Super Bowl contenders, damnit, and no sober Western New Yorker has been able to say that for 20-plus years.

Next, consider who’s around that quarterback. Stefon Diggs is a legit star and this is, hands down, the best foursome of wide receivers in the NFL. The defense is three-plus years in the making. The defense was demolished and rebuilt in the image of its head coach who, by the way, inked a six-year extension. Money is poured into positions that matter: A cool $60 million to left tackle (Dion Dawkins), another $70 million to a No. 1 corner (Tre’Davious White).

Best of all, the man calling plays up in the booth is a wizard. Brian Daboll will be atop coaching wish lists in 2021.

Consider who’s gone. The antagonist who’s tortured this franchise for two decades, the greatest player ever, is now safely 1,250 miles south in a different conference. Michael Myers isn’t lurking behind that bush anymore and, without Tom Brady, the New England Patriots have slipped into a self-induced coma. And the Miami Dolphins are breaking in a rookie quarterback. And the New York Jets, destined to go 0-16, are making dumpster fires look like five-star Marriotts.

And, finally, consider ownership. It’s strong. Lest we forget, this city may not even have a football team without Terry Pegula. From the day he and his wife saved the Bills, they’ve been unloading millions for coaches and players and a new training facility and Pegula even put his prospecting touch to impeccable use in identifying the quarterback who will challenge Brady for GOAT status one day, the quarterback who revolutionized the game instantly, a quarterback who… uh…well… yeah… is not named Josh Allen.

There’s one more reason the heat is on Allen.

The Bills were far, far closer than anyone realizes to drafting Patrick Mahomes.

When everyone else in the country was squeamish, this was who Pegula coveted as the face of his franchise. He brought Mahomes’ name up to anyone who’d listen. The rest of the world saw Mahomes as some swashbuckler who’d never be able to play this way in the pros. To Pegula, he was a star. Yet Pegula also did not want to meddle. He had placed this trust into McDermott — into the embryonic stage of “The Process” — so the Bills’ brass then decided to trade down from 10th overall to 27th to pick up a future first-rounder with hopes Mahomes would slide.

He did not.

He went to Kansas City and has since enjoyed a Jordan-like ascent with one MVP, one Super Bowl MVP and one whopping $503 Million Dollar Contract. Now, Mahomes is the single greatest obstacle between the Bills and their first Super Bowl in 60 years of existence because there’s zero question in KC: Mahomes is transcendent. Supernatural. Our brains have run out of adjectives.

Josh Allen, meanwhile, is… complicated. Josh Allen is a one-man optical illusion.

He is whatever you choose to see.

Last season, Allen was either the gutsy hero who pulled off four fourth-quarter comebacks or the goat whose playoff performance in Houston was ghastly. He blew a 16-0 lead that night to cap a season in which he finished 32nd amongst 32 starting quarterbacks in completion percentage. This season, he’s either the unstoppable MVP candidate, the source of a viral “apology form,” the franchise’s long-lost savior or, still, that turnover waiting to happen.

Two guys at a bar can watch the same exact quarterback and draw completely different conclusions.

What’s undeniable is there’s nobody like this 6-foot-5, 237-pound, linebacker-leaping, bicep-flexing, touchdown-catching, off-roadin’ ATV joy ride of a quarterback and you better believe teammates love that he’s theirs. Teammates effectively say we can stick all criticism where the sun don’t shine.

“In a bar fight,” center Mitch Morse says, “you want to bring Josh Allen because you know he’ll go to battle with you. That’s infectious.”

Adds running back Devin Singletary, “He has a swag about him. He’s a general and we’re going to follow him.”

As for the locals who’ve had their hearts ripped from their chest far too many times, the locals who’ve taken the bait hook, line ‘n sinker from Collins to Rob to Bledsoe to Losman to Trent to Fitz to EJ to Tyrod? Josh Allen has everyone falling in love like they’ve never fallen before. This connection between city and quarterback is real. Rare. Special. After fans found out that Allen had lost his grandmother the day before a win over Seattle, they started donating $17 at a time to Oishei Children’s Hospital in her honor and, in less than 24 hours, the donations surpassed $100,000.

A day later, it was up to $200,000. The next day, north of $300,000.

One week in, nearly $700,000.

So just for one moment, imagine the scene. Imagine the pandemonium if Allen returns this franchise to the home of “Wide Right” — Tampa, Fla. — only, this time, the Bills win it all. Imagine Jim Kelly wrapping Allen in a bear hug as the confetti falls. Tears will flow. Fans will say they can now die in peace. No pandemic, no politician will stop the parade to end all parades on Delaware Avenue. The mood of an entire swath of the country will change. Permanently. It’s all possible, all so very, very possible, if… Josh Allen is the answer.

The weight of it all is on his shoulders.

Take it from two of the personnel men who passed on Mahomes back on that fateful day in 2017. Doug Whaley and Jim Monos were there. They know how close the Bills were to changing football forever.

Says Monos, “This year is it. Josh Allen. I can’t think of a bigger story… of a guy who’s going to affect a lot of peoples’ futures.”

There’s no turning back.

The Bills are 7-3.

This final month of the season will be either a coronation or a crash to reality.

A duel with Mahomes looms.

No pressure, Josh.

What could have been

The road to this defining moment in franchise history truly began at Tempo Restaurant in downtown Buffalo.

Whaley was still the GM. Monos was still his right-hand man. It was around October of 2016 as both recall and, at the home of the best ribeye steak in America, they charted a long-term plan with both Terry and Kim Pegula. Whaley told the owners that Buffalo should load up on ammo for the 2018 draft where a talented crop of quarterbacks was brewing.

Guys like Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen and, a new name busting onto the scene, Baker Mayfield.

Supply would meet demand.

But then, that fall, a funny thing happened: Terry Pegula could not stop watching a quarterback who’d be in the 2017 class. “What about Mahomes?” he asked Whaley. “Look at this guy. He’s unbelievable.” And he kept bringing up his name. To everyone. It was love at first sight, both ex-Bills execs say, and there was absolutely nothing Pegula didn’t love about him. Whenever the personnel staff got together to watch film of prospects, both remember Pegula asking to watch Mahomes again.

And again. And again.

And, hey, could you run that play back once more?

“This was his guy,” Whaley says. “This was the guy he thought could define him as an owner and go back to the glory days of the Bills with Jim Kelly. So he’s like, ‘This is our next Jim Kelly.’”

Adds Monos, “He probably watched him every day. It definitely became, ‘Hey, Terry, we know you love him.’ Like laughing to a point where, ‘You don’t have to tell us anymore. We got it. We know you love him.’ I loved it. That was the scout coming out of him. It was really cool. He had the passion for it. He was watching him on his own. He was definitely into it.

“He loved him. He loved him.”

They understood why, of course: Mahomes’ game boggled the mind.

The throws he’d attempt— forget actually complete — defied gravity. Monos remembers asking himself many times, Why is he even trying that? The torquing of his torso. The funky arm angles. The ability to morph the field into his own personal playground. Mahomes took risks that’d seem to get him in trouble in the NFL, risks that gave all scouts pause. Still, once that ’16 Bills season ended, it was on. They first met Mahomes at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and it didn’t matter that this was nothing more than a 15-minute, X-‘n-O speed date of an interview. Nor did it matter that all anointed draft experts were lukewarm on Mahomes then. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock ranked him as his fourth QB (with Deshone Kizer first), Mel Kiper Jr. also slotted him fourth (with Mitchell Trubisky first) and Todd McShay didn’t even have him in his top 32 overall.

As Monos recalls, Pegula would’ve drafted Mahomes right then and there in Indy if he could’ve.

Next came the cross-country trip in Pegula’s private jet.

First up? Kizer in South Bend, Ind., and the Bills only made this visit to throw other teams off. (His workout was, predictably, ugly.) Next was Trubisky in Chapel Hill, N.C. The weather was perfect. While it said a lot to the Bills about Trubisky’s character that four of his teammates showed up to run routes that morning when it appeared they were hung over from partying, Trubisky didn’t control the ball like they had hoped. Neither QB, to them, projected much alpha. Finally, it was on to Lubbock, Texas, to Mahomes on April 9-10 and, by God, was this trip a spectacle.

Mahomes was an alpha in every sense. He picked the steakhouse. He commanded the table.

He was fearless in every sense of the word.

“You wanted to stay with him all night,” Monos says. “It was awesome. … Mahomes was a guy who, ‘Let’s go get some wings and beer. Let’s go.’”

The next day — through driving 20 MPH winds— his workout was nothing short of phenomenal. With Pegula, Whaley, Monos, McDermott, then-OC Rick Dennison and then-QB coach David Culley all on site, Mahomes wasn’t stressed, nor nervous. He made every throw look easy. He carried himself with, as Monos puts, “If you want me, take me”-swag. 

Adds Whaley, “The moment was not going to be too big for him. It was what he was born to be. The way he handled himself through the process, through the interviews, through the workout, it was like ‘Alright!’ This guy was a professional from Day 1. It didn’t faze him. It was ‘What do you want to do? OK. Let’s do it. You want me to do it better? You want me to do it this way? Whatever you want.’ You knew he had everything you wanted to be special.”

One week later, the Bills met with Deshaun Watson. Which went well. They liked him, too.

But Mahomes was the target. Part of Monos worried the Brett Favre-like gambling would break a lot of hearts, while Whaley worried about the Air Raid lineage and Mahomes going 5-7 his last season. McDermott? He made it clear he wanted to compete in Year 1 and his assistants flat-out did not want the quarterback. All in all, nobody in the entire building was standing on the table for Mahomes. Nobody that is, other than Pegula.

Nobody had “Top 10 conviction” on Mahomes, adds Monos, “other than Terry.”

So, the Bills charted a new battle plan. Their calculated gamble was that their reservations would be the entire league’s reservations and Mahomes would slip. No QB had come out of this scheme and torn up the pros. He put up video-game numbers, sure, but this was also the Big 12. Whaley figured doubts could precipitate a drop and when Monos thinks back to everyone he knows in the NFL scouting community today, he is adamant: There was not love for Mahomes. Like, at all. Right up to draft day, he insists Mahomes was not considered a “can’t-miss guy” so Buffalo straddled its initial plan at Tempo with a prudent pursuit of Mahomes by trading down from No. 10 to No. 27.

The parameters of a trade with the Chiefs were set before the draft.

The dream scenario? Get Mahomes at 27 and have two firsts in 2018.

Of course, there was one wild card: Andy Reid. The Bills figured the Chiefs coach was after a QB if he was willing to give up so much… but who? Did Reid like Watson because he reminded him of his days with Donovan McNabb in the 2000s or Mahomes because he reminded him of his days with Brett Favre in the 90s? It was a mystery. Tension built. And on the day of the draft, April 27, 2017, Pegula gave Whaley and Monos and McDermott one final chance to change their minds. In the offensive staff room — upstairs, across from Whaley’s office — all three still agreed that trading down was best.

Even then, however, both Whaley and Monos were sure to remind Pegula who’s boss.

“I said, ‘Hey, Terry,’” says Whaley, “‘this is your team. If you want the guy, you take him. It’s not going to be a bad pick. You’re the owner.’ I looked him in the eye in front of coach and in front of Jim and in front of Kim — ‘This is your team. If you really want the guy, get him.’ We’ll be able to get him at 10 for sure. Now, I do believe we can drop down and get an extra pick and be able to get him at 27 but, worst-case scenario, I have two first-round picks to be able to take our choice of quarterbacks next year.

“Talent-wise, he’s definitely worthy of it. I think we all recognized the talent. Let’s put it this way: If Rex was our head coach, we would’ve most definitely had Mahomes. I’m pretty sure. There wouldn’t have been the excuse of, ‘We need that impact player to help us right now.’ It would’ve been a different discussion.”

Adds Monos, “I just wanted to say, ‘Hey, look, you don’t need our opinion if you want him.’ But Terry, I respect that about him. I really do. I really, really respect him. He just hired Sean. He gave him control. For him to overstep Sean right away would’ve been a tough thing for Terry to do.”

Neither remember McDermott saying anything in this specific moment.

He didn’t need to. By then, the hierarchy was clear.

By then, McDermott had control of the roster. McDermott had final say. And McDermott had repeated all along he wanted to be able to look his players in the eye his first team meeting and say they were competing to win this season. Not rebuilding. Not developing a 22-year-old. So, the Bills executed the trade. If Mahomes fell to 27, to McDermott, that’d be a smoother sell and, Monos adds, the Bills would’ve had to take Mahomes at 27 because of Pegula. (“I think he would’ve been there, too,” he adds. “I really do. I’m telling you, nobody had Mahomes up there.”)

Except, it turns out, the Chiefs. With that 10th pick, the Chiefs drafted Mahomes and, in the war room, Pegula said aloud that Reid “got his Favre.”

Seventeen picks later, Buffalo took White.

Big picture, a major disconnect in vision was clear. All along, Whaley and Monos were fully prepared to lose. Both felt that way back to March when the Bills re-signed Tyrod Taylor — to them, it was time to move on. From Taylor. From so many vets. Meanwhile, McDermott wanted Taylor entrenched as the starter to establish a winning culture. To him, a total reset would signal to his team that they’re “packing it in,” Whaley recalls.

He couldn’t envision presenting that decision to a team he’d be trying to motivate to win now.

Adds Whaley, “To have that guy as our first draft pick — especially at 10 — he thought that wouldn’t send the right message. He said, ‘We have enough talent on this team that we can compete right away if we use that first-rounder on someone that can contribute this year. You hear that and it’s, ‘OK, legitimate, legitimate point, a legitimate thought process.’ And then you get fired and see ‘Trade this person, trade that person.’ It’s like ‘What?’”

Indeed, one day later, the entire personnel staff was whacked. McDermott seized full control the way his mentor, Reid, once did in Philadelphia. Ten days later, McDermott brought in his own general manager (Brandon Beane) and the Bills ejected players one by one: Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby, Marcell Dareus, Reggie Ragland. Hell, McDermott even benched Taylor when his team was 5-4, thus justifying what Monos and Whaley tried to tell him back in March and, to his credit, still ended the team’s playoff drought. Whaley and Monos claim they wanted this partnership to work, wanted to “sync up” with the coaches and learn what kind of players they desired but — as Whaley put — other plans were “obviously in the works” pre-draft.

And Monos, the one who got McDermott his job interview to begin with, doesn’t fault the Pegulas. He learned the hard way that if a team doesn’t give one boss full authority, things get messy.

The head coach and GM need to be tied together. It’s imperative.

In that job interview, McDermott espoused the virtues of a team having “one voice” and it sure made a lot of sense for that “one voice” to be one, hard pendulum swing away from the Rex Ryan clown show. So while it says a lot about Pegula’s instincts that he believed in Mahomes when few did, to Monos, it says even more that he didn’t interfere the way, say, Al Davis did when the late Raiders owner took JaMarcus Russell No. 1 overall.

There’s also this: Does Mahomes ever become Mahomes in Buffalo? McDermott’s first offensive staff was hideous. Culley had never coached quarterbacks before. Dennison’s scheme was derived from the walls of a Stone Age cave — the Bills had zero plans to rip up their playbook for an offense that’d suit Mahomes. This was “I” formation, run-to-daylight stuff that puts you to sleep. One veteran on that Bills offense recalls Dennison’s offense as “pathetic” with zero detail, zero creativity, zero hope every week. Mahomes wouldn’t have had anything close to Andy Reid grooming him. Nor the weaponry he has in KC. Nor an Alex Smith-like mentor because Taylor was still fighting like a madman to prove himself.

“I’m telling you,” Monos says, “with that structure, I don’t know where Mahomes would be.”

Adds Whaley, “If he goes anywhere else, is he as quickly the MVP and the Super Bowl-winner as he was in Kansas City behind Alex Smith for a year? And being with Andy Reid?”

Then again… it’s Mahomes.

Hell yes, Monos wishes he would’ve spoken up and put his career on the line for Mahomes. Instead, both he and Whaley are out of the NFL. Oh, and one more counterfactual: What if Anthony Lynn, not McDermott, gets the job? Lynn was a finalist. Lynn is a Texas Tech alum. Lynn may have been more willing to get on board with Pegula. Instead, all livelihoods at One Bills Drive are in the hands of, one, Joshua Patrick Allen. Ironically enough, McDermott and Beane ended up executing that long-ago plan at Tempo by finding a QB in that ’18 draft. (Both went long on that process with exceptional Bills beat writer Matthew Fairburn.)

Three seasons, 38 starts, 1,191 pass attempts in and Allen remains an enigma.

“If Allen’s good,” Monos says, “it’s not a horrible trade.

“But… is he good?”

Of course, uttering those three words around here is akin to ordering ranch with your chicken wings. McDermott is worshipped. Allen is worshipped.

Fans are all in and, top to bottom, the organization’s all in. If anyone is tossing and turning and reaching for the Nyquil at 3 a.m. to grab a couple hours of shuteye, you wouldn’t be able to tell.

These Bills sure believe in the quarterback they did draft.

They’ve always believed.

“Warrior Mentality”

The play that just might’ve changed this franchise forever will go down as a three-yard gain.

Three. Measly. Yards.

Of course, this was so much more.

This was Thanksgiving Day. This was a chance for the Bills to demand everyone’s respect. And on fourth and 1 — 2:17 to go in the first half, at the Cowboys’ 30 — it was as if Josh Allen felt your pain. As if he knew this was prime time to stick it to everyone claiming these were the same-ole, sad-sack, choking Bills. In the muck, he scooped up a fumbled snap, smashed through a linebacker (Sean Lee), spun through a cornerback (Byron Jones) and fired off one of the most vicious first-down signals in NFL history.

The legion of Bills fans in Frisco, Texas roared. All of Erie County, back north, quaked. The first thought that crossed Mitch Morse’s mind that play? “Shit.” He didn’t feel the usual crispness on this snap. Then he stood up, looked around “like an idiot” (his words) and witnessed the Josh Allen Effect in real time.

“It was remarkable,” Morse says. “It’s one of those things you just can’t teach. The guy’s got it. He’s ingrained with it. It really was an incredible deal, one of the most incredible I’ve ever been a part of on the football field.”

Adds Singletary, “He’s a dog. Everybody loves to play with a dog and that’s definitely what he is. He’s not going to back down from no one.”

One play later, the Bills scored and proceeded to dance on the Cowboys’ grave all night. Allen and White — the two players Buffalo ended up with instead of Mahomes — gnawed on turkey legs. Into the locker room, players doused ex-Cowboy Cole Beasley in water, hoisted him up into the air and Allen, fist held high, rallied all together to say, “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Those three yards felt like a Big Bang moment for the entire franchise.

Josh Allen, right then, arrived. Josh Allen, it was clear, would be the Bills’ quarterback for years to come. Maybes gave way to definitelys and, into this season, Allen’s militia of believers grew to a full-fledged army because the magic continued. As the Bills stormed to 4-0, nobody cared that Buffalo passed on Mahomes. As Allen stiff-armed Kyle Van Noy and rocketed passes through a talented Rams defense and, with a flick of the wrist, effortlessly rainbowed the ball 60 yards through the air, belief in him as the savior grew… and grew.

So pressure naturally builds… and builds.

The good news? At his purest, Allen is a quarterback impervious to pressure. He plays freely. His electricity becomes yours. Players all feel it. Allen sincerely makes them play harder. Allen makes them believe. You hold your block a tick longer. You run that route an inch crisper. You lay it all on the line because he is. No, this effect cannot be quantified with a statistic but Morse felt the same energy around Alex Smith and, yes, Mahomes as the Chiefs starting center — Allen, he assures, is equally “tenacious.”

“With that, you’re able to kind of give that to the rest of the group,” Morse says. “You come into the huddle with that competitive fire, with that moxie, it’s infectious.

“A successful quarterback has to have a little shit to him. Josh definitely does have that.”

Call it, uh, “shit.” Or magic. Or the “it” factor. Whatever you want.

To running back Zack Moss, it’s a “warrior mentality” and it’s contagious.

“When you look at him, he’s really dorky, loves to joke around, he’s like a big kid,” says Moss. “But once he steps on that field — the way he commands leadership on the field — it’s infectious. You want to play with a guy like that. You want to go to war with a guy like that. He puts his body on the line each and every week — no matter what his numbers look like, if we’re winning, if we’re losing.”

Players want to fight for this quarterback because, frankly, he doesn’t act like a quarterback. Moss jokes that Allen is more of a fullback with a huge arm.

His playing style appeals to your inner-drive.

“His relentlessness,” Moss continues. “The way he breaks out of sacks when he should be tackled three times. And he’s still fighting, still fighting, over and over and over. You usually see that from a running back or you’ll see it from a tight end. Once you see that from your quarterback, when he is the face of your franchise? The face of the team? It speaks to a different level. You don’t see a lot of quarterbacks playing with that kind of effort and that type of grittiness. So when you see that from Josh, it’s infectious.

“You want to make sure you’re going out there and leaving everything on the field. Just like he is.”

No wonder a very small part of former Bills center Eric Wood is jealous. He still remembers the day he met Allen. Shortly after Wood retired, he headed down to the Masters in Augusta, Ga., and found himself shaking hands with this QB out of Wyoming. The ‘18 draft was still three weeks away. Allen wasn’t a Bill yet. But upon leaving, one thought crossed Wood’s mind: I’m going to be really pissed if the Bills draft this guy. Because he would’ve loved to have played with him. Wood endured far more pain and suffering in his nine seasons than any pro athlete should be subjected to.

Losing. A broken leg. More losing. A broken leg. More losing.

And Wood could tell, even in this setting, that Allen had it. He knew he’d want to fight for him. To this day, the two text regularly. And Wood knows that if he feels this way — a “has-been!” he jokes — that Allen’s actual teammates must be going nuts in every film session.

Says Wood, “Guys are like, ‘Alright, this isn’t a pretentious quarterback with a big ego. This dude’s putting his body on the line out there and he wants to win as bad as I do or more.’”

Sure, footage of Allen shaking every teammate’s hand in the waning moments of a blowout loss in Nashville seems cliché but Wood assures stuff like this matters. To him, there is immense value to “playing for a cause” and he always brings up the 2012 Colts to friends as an example. Their coach, Chuck Pagano, was diagnosed with cancer, Bruce Arians took over and, even with what he calls a “crap roster” around a rookie quarterback, the Colts improved from 2-14 to 11-5.

The intangible cannot not be All-22’ed, stuffed into an Excel formula and quantified, no.

The intangible can fuel you, though. Propel you.

“Culture matters,” Wood says. “Playing hard for a cause matters. And if you can galvanize a group — because you’re willing to put your body on the line, you’re willing to fight for a first down in Dallas on a QB sneak — that goes a long way.”

This isn’t anything new to Allen, either.

He had the same effect at Wyoming.

His college head coach, Craig Bohl, remembers a specific Big Bang moment for his program, too — Allen’s first collegiate start. Against Northern Illinois, in triple overtime, Allen scrambled right, reversed left, juked a defender — “ran for like 60 yards,” Bohl exaggerates — and scored. The stadium erupted and Wyoming football, with one play, arrived. From Day 1, Allen was a “fierce competitor,” Bohl says. And Bohl, who also coached Carson Wentz at North Dakota State, says Allen matured rapidly within his pro-style offense. Initially at “an elementary” level, he learned to harness his wild arm.

While adding 20 pounds of muscle.

While his personality only became more… and more… infectious.

OK, he was young. He couldn’t grow any stubble of facial hair. Bohl loved giving his baby-faced quarterback grief for that.

Sure, Allen might walk out of a game hitting only half his passes. Bohl admits Allen struggled with the easier throws, but the plays he did make — running sideways, gunning it 55 yards into the end zone — were game-changers. Program-changers. Bohl has faced Peyton Manning and other greats in his four decades of coaching. As he puts, there’s a “science” to playing quarterback but there’s also an “art.”

The art, to him, matters most.

“There’s nobody you want better under center, and in that huddle than Josh Allen,” Bohl says. “Don’t bet against him. If I had an open date on my schedule, and the Super Bowl is being played this year, my money’s on Josh Allen.”

Because one theme has stuck since Day 1. Everything can be going wrong for the Bills’ offense and Allen has an innate ability to rise from the dead.

He flips a switch. He’s never down, never out.

From 2018. It’s a lost year. The Bills are in the midst of mass roster reconstruction with weapons around the QB scarce. But hope is planted. Sporadically. With a hurdle over Anthony Barr in an upset win at Minnesota. With a stiff-arm, juke and lowered shoulder of a touchdown on a QB draw touchdown against the Jaguars merely months after their star corner Jalen Ramsey called him “trash.” (He’s sure to flex on ‘em, too.) With a leaping QB sneak on fourth and inches to seal a win over Detroit at home. All that win does is hurt Buffalo’s draft positioning but don’t tell Allen. He’s raising his arms to jack up the crowd as if promising brighter days are ahead.

On to 2019. His fight’s contagious. In danger of losing to the anemic Bengals with 4:27 left? Allen hits Dawson Knox who stiff-arms one defender into tomorrow and steamrolls another. Winless Miami is threatening? After a laughably-bad overthrow on what should’ve been an easy six? Allen leads a TD drive. Engaged in an eyesore of a QB duel with a third-stringer named “Duck?” Allen flings a 40-yarder to Brown and zips the game-winner on third-and-9.

Into 2020. Right when the Bills blow a 28-3 lead to the Rams — the QB fumblin’ and bumblin’ and getting flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct — that same QB comes alive. He puts together the drive of his life. On third and 22, planting his back foot on his own 23, Allen drills one to Cole Beasley in traffic for 22. He guns another missile to Beasley for 19. Allen’s own facemask penalty sends the Bills back 15 yards? No sweat. On third and 25, Allen gets 17 back with a throw to Diggs. A phantom pass interference penalty the ensuing fourth down suggests some good luck may finally be coming this franchise’s way. And Allen smells blood. Allen fades… fades… and floats a game-winner to Tyler Kroft in the left corner of the end zone. The legend grows.

Because this fullback playing quarterback isn’t just physically tough. He’s also, clearly, mentally tough. Overcome with emotion after the Seattle win, Allen collapsed in the arms of Daboll. Fans felt his pain. Teammates felt his pain. Moss, and so many others, didn’t even have a clue Allen lost his grandmother until postgame. Allen was that locked in.

So, the faith grows. Teammates describe it as unbreakable.

They simply know that, at some point, Allen will deliver.

“We trust Josh implicitly. Completely,” Morse says. “When stuff’s going south is when he wants to shine the most.”

Adds Singletary, “If you’re a dog, you’re a dog. If you’re not, you’re not. I’m gonna ride with Josh, no matter what.”

All fun, all marketable, but what if it’s all… a mirage? Fluff?

All the flexing and air-guitaring might be distracting us from a cold-hard reality that Allen can only take the Bills so far. Morse brings up last year’s playoff loss as proof of Allen’s guts but, again, watching Allen is all in the eye of the beholder. Skeptics likely remember Allen uncorking a bomb to his fullback in double-coverage… throwing one near pick-six off Bradley Roby’s chest and another near pick-six directly through JJ Watt’s arms… zig ‘n zagging his way to a 19-yard sack on fourth and 27 with 1:43 left… attempting a bizarre lateral 20 yards downfield with 1:14 left… and, with 39 seconds to go, throwing another near-pick right to Roby.

The other quarterback, Watson, epitomized calm. Poise.

Allen was the exact opposite. Feral, unpredictable.

McDermott tries to rein him in. He’s an old-school coach who doesn’t want his quarterback free-wheelin’ games into something you’d find in the quad of a college campus, no, he’d much rather see every drive end in a kick, clap his approval and win, as one AFC scout puts, the “17-14” game. Problem is, that doesn’t fly in this era. McDermott will have no choice but to cut Allen loose and engage in a shootout.

At which point, it may not matter how much grit Allen has.

All that will matter is if Josh Allen is, in fact, good enough to win it all.

That debate, outside of Buffalo, rages on.

READ PART II RIGHT HERE