Part II: The Pressure is on Josh Allen
We know the Bills quarterback has guts. Now, experts say, he must win with his mind. In the "Mahomes Era" that's what it'll take. Buffalo has faith.
This is not easy for all Twitter-fried brains to comprehend so, if you’re of the afflicted, please take a deep breath, put a pot of coffee on and collect yourself. Quarterbacks in the NFL can, in fact… improve. I know. Crazy. Contrary to our timelines, what happens *right now* is not etched in stone, even if all the cool kids with the blue checkmarks are saying it.
Oh, it was ugly for Josh Allen. Very ugly. His NSFW throws infiltrated social media daily, turning a rookie Allen into the football equivalent of a “Bad Luck Brian” meme. In retrospect, his future was never as bleak as those laughably-bad, “Fore!”-level overthrows might’ve suggested.
Why? Quarterbacks evolve.
And no quarterback in the sport evolved quite like Kurt Warner.
In 1994, Warner was an undrafted, fourth-string, camp body cut by the Packers. By 1999, he was the NFL MVP, Super Bowl MVP, pilot of the Greatest Show on Turf. So, what happened? Exactly 1,320 pass attempts in the Arena League and 326 in NFL Europe when the pressure on him could’ve been suffocating. In arena, Warner needed to score literally every time he touched the ball. If he didn’t, he knew there was a good chance his Iowa Barnstormers lost.
When he couldn’t hear himself think it was so loud. When he was just stocking shelves at Hy-Vee for $5.50 an hour.
Throw to throw, Warner transformed himself into a totally different quarterback and he knows he is not alone. He points to Drew Brees and Jim Kelly and Tom Brady as quarterbacks who drastically improved Year 1 to Year 5.
“That’s always the big question,” Warner says. “When has somebody hit their ceiling? When do we know that they can’t become any better? And other guys just continue to grow and grow and grow.”
Which brings us to this next source of pressure on Josh Allen. We still don’t know what to make of him as a quarterback.
How high is his ceiling?
To most, the answer is easy: Sky freakin’ high. To most, he’s making all those haters eat their words. To others, it’s a bit more nuanced. To others, he’s still a mystery. Those who study the position intensely from NFL scouts to the greats like Warner — a Hall-of-Famer who may now watch more QB film today than anyone in the country as a NFL Network analyst — are not completely sold. To them, the light at the end of the tunnel is more of a flicker that’ll blow out against a good defense in the playoffs. The concept of “ceiling” is different to Warner than it is to you or I. He doesn’t view “ceiling” through the lens of a QB’s physical ability. He doesn’t see a rocket arm or breakneck speed or did-he-just-do-that!? improvisation and project greatness.
No, to Warner, ceiling is all mental. All how a quarterback processes the game.
After all, that’s how a Barnstormin’ cast-off essentially changes offensive football.
Warner studies Allen. Warner has concerns.
Over the summer, he re-watched every snap of the Bills’ playoff loss to the Texans and… yikes. It was bad. Allen missed “lay-up” after “lay-up.” His unusual frame stood out then. Warner is a firm believer that it’s extremely difficult for lanky, 6-foot-5 quarterbacks to ever become rhythmic passers. Peyton Manning was tall, sure, but “still compact,” Warner notes. In Allen, he sees “long levers” and Warner believes it’s extremely difficult for any quarterback with such levers to condense everything into a concise throwing motion that lasts.
And even as Allen then torched the league with an MVP-caliber September, even as millions of us believed we were witnessing a young QB turning the corner and anyone who ever uttered a bad word about Allen was told to repent for their sins, Warner saw something else. Warner saw a quarterback making (very) simple throws to (very) fast receivers. A quarterback who, frankly, didn’t need to use his brain much. As defenses started getting more exotic in coverage with their zones, Allen regressed. Allen lacked a counterpunch. Hence, the JV-level picks vs. the Titans and the near picks vs. the NFL’s worst team and the fumbles (he’s up to 28 in 38 starts). After that 4-0 start, Buffalo lost to two AFC powers and wobbled to wins over two AFC lightweights with Allen completing 62.7 percent of his passes for 211.5 yards per game, four scores, four picks and a 79.2 passer rating.
“When you get man to man, you don’t have to process the information,” Warner says. “It’s just ‘Pick a match-up that you like, and go.’ And, so, it’s a great thing for young guys because it comes down to the physicality more than it comes down to the mental side of it. When you add the mental side to it — with a guy who’s still learning how to play the position like Josh and still learning how to process and, at times, gets antsy in the pocket — all this stuff starts to stack on top of each other. And that is when you have your inefficiencies.
“The further you get away from what’s easy for you and the more you have to think and process, the harder anything is going to be. That’s what you’re seeing. Teams are going, ‘OK, we’re going to make him process and have to go through progressions.’”
Hope filled the air again when Allen threw for 415 yards in that win over Seattle but even that win further makes Warner’s point. This was a historically bad pass defense, one that’s getting gashed for an NFL-worst 343.7 passing yards per game, inexplicably playing Cover 0 for 11.8 percent of snaps and Cover 1 on 33.8 percent of snaps (per PFF). The next game was the ultimate Josh Allen Experience. Allen threw two errant passes that should’ve been picks, two errant passes that were picks before, then, leading what we all thought was another epic, game-winning drive.
And the mystery continued.
This isn’t uncommon. Warner points to ‘02 when he broke his finger and those Rams had to roll with a rookie (Marc Bulger) or a veteran (Jamie Martin). Coaches asked Warner what he thought and he recommended Bulger because even though the Rams were 0-5 and the Raiders were 4-0, he knew the Raiders played strictly man to man. Bulger wouldn’t have to think too much out there and, voila, Bulger threw three touchdowns with a 134.1 passer rating in a 28-13 win.
Bulger even had himself a nice little career.
But, no, the Bills did not draft Josh Allen to be Marc Bulger.
The Bills need Allen to evolve. How quickly can he see that outside ‘backer about to scream off the edge? How quickly can he recognize the defense shifted to Cover 2 pre-snap? How quickly can he decipher this all and react with the perfect throw? These are the questions Warner still has because Warner still sees a split-second of buffering from Allen and that slightest tick of hesitation destroys a play.
“You have a level of physical ability and it is what you are,” Warner says. “Lamar Jackson is not getting faster. Josh Allen is not going to throw the ball farther. Where he’s got to get better and try to reach his ceiling — whatever his ceiling is — is going to be the mental side of it. How far can you push yourself? Will you truly be able to see defenses, process it and go to the next level? The great ones have the ability to process information quickly and get to the right play.”
The obvious retort is, hey, the dude is a dog. A dude you want in that bar fight.
An infectious playmaker who — with two or three Wild West stunts a game — will make you spit up your beer, wake up the napping baby and text approximately 29 nonsensical consonants in all caps to your buddies. There are Hall-of-Famers who do believe this magic sticks. Favre, for one, said Allen “will be the new Tom Brady.” Pro scouts get the allure, too. They all have a distinctive “wow” first impression. One AFC regional scout still remembers a scene during Wyoming’s pregame when, from his own 35-yard-line, Allen airmailed the ball into the opposite end zone and nearly drilled a ball boy in the head. Up close, he assures, you realize this arm is truly on a “different level.”
Another college scout points to Wyoming’s pregame before playing Hawaii. Seeing Allen “effortlessly flipping the wrist,” up close, was a thing of beauty.
His skill-set is so unique that those who study the position for a living cannot think of anyone like him.
One AFC college scout sees a dash of Cam Newton.
One high-ranking AFC exec vacillates between two comps. First, he calls Allen “a more exciting Kirk Cousins” because, to him, Allen is good enough to get the Bills to the playoffs but bad enough to keep them from going too far. He points out that defenses know they simply have to confuse him, so there’s also “a Daunte Culpepper feel” here. He believes that, like Culpepper, defenses will shut Allen down for good in one or two years.
One quarterbacks coach could not disagree more. He loves Allen. He sees some Newton, citing those Carolina connections in Buffalo, but adds that Allen’s arm is stronger. And he sees no comp to Allen, in any era, because Allen is “as big as a defensive end who can make every throw.” It takes two guys to bring him down and, to him, nobody this side of Kyler Murray in 2020 is better at keeping plays alive.
One AFC scout goes the fictional route. He says Allen is essentially Ricky Vaughn, the “Wild Thing” from Major League. “Is he Ricky Vaughn from the beginning?” he says. “Or can he be Ricky Vaughn at the end? Can he put it all together?” Because, he notes, while Allen has a bazooka for an arm, he is still figuring out how to use the scope on that bazooka. Per PFF, last season, Allen was the 32nd-best deep ball passer with a 24.1 completion percentage on passes of 20-plus yards and had the highest rate of uncatchable balls.
After the hot September, this issue returned. The last five games, Allen is 6 of 25 on such throws.
Adds the AFC East scout: “What is the arm strength without legitimate accuracy? He can throw it through a brick wall but he’s never had great touch.”
He may never, magically, discover such touch. He can, however, learn to process the X’s and O’s faster.
Warner doesn’t want to just pick on Allen. He sees this as the ultimate test for this entire wave of young quarterbacks. Athletically, no doubt, this group is “ridiculous.” But where they all suffer is that they’ve been able to default to that ridiculousness their entire lives — be it 4.3 speed, a cannon right arm, etc. — whenever their mental process short-circuits. Suddenly it’s “Forget processing. Go run and make a play,” he says. And, sure, that’ll win you your fantasy football championship. That’ll fill up the stat sheet. Allen ranks seventh in passing yards.
This programming, however, does not win rings.
To Warner, it’s no coincidence that Jackson was stymied in the playoffs. Twice. He does not believe a quarterback who relies primarily on athleticism can win a Super Bowl. The closest to do it was Colin Kaepernick and, he notes, Kaepernick had the benefit of the NFL’s No. 1 defense.
“That’s as close as we’ve seen,” Warner says, “to a guy who doesn’t really know how to play the quarterback position carrying his team all the way to a Super Bowl.”
There’s real value in going all in on your quarterback’s raw gifts. Even Whaley admits he too often viewed the NFL as a trickle-down league as GM when so much is trickling up from college. The Ravens ditched their long-levered QB (Joe Flacco) — ditched their whole playbook, really — to revolve everything around Jackson’s speed and set an NFL record with 3,296 rushing yards in 2019. Lamar was the MVP. Lamar was surreal, weekly. And in Buffalo, Daboll has fully capitalized on Allen’s physical gifts, too. He’ll unleash him on a QB sweep. He’ll turn him into a receiver. He’ll scheme Diggs into 1-on-1’s and let Allen rip it.
Now, both Jackson and Allen need a counterpunch.
A quarterback cannot razzle ‘n dazzle ‘n playmake his way to three playoff wins in a row. As special as Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are, Warner believes both only have one ring apiece because both relied so heavily on freelancing much of their careers. Which also helps explain why Brady has simultaneously spent his entire adult life collecting rings. You never watch one of his playoff games and scream at the top of your lungs that Brady made 15 “ridiculous!” throws but Brady makes the right throw “over and over and over again,” Warner says.
This brand of quarterbacking is what rises to the top.
“If you’re playing against three good defenses,” Warner says, “and you think you’re going to make enough plays ad-libbing to beat them, it’s probably not going to happen.
“So when I say, ‘What is your ceiling?’ I want to know: How complete can your game be? Not how athletic you are and how far that can take you. But how complete can you be — Can you see your hots? Can you understand protections? Can you throw the ball away when you need to throw the ball away? Can you make the tight throw when you have to? Can you read and process to your third and fourth receiver consistently when a team takes away your 1 and 2? Can you make the lay-ups? … It’s always more mental when a guy reaches his ceiling and a guy continues to get better and better and better. It’s not because they’re getting better physically. It’s because they’re getting better mentally. And that’s what we want to know: What is your ceiling Josh Allen, in terms of your mental ability to process and understand everything from technique to reading coverages to making the throws to making the right decisions?
“That, to me, becomes the ultimate question with this new-era of quarterback. How long can they sustain what they’re doing to have their statistical success before it’s going to have to adjust? And if they do or if they don’t will determine how long they play in this game and at that level.”
Thus, it’s pretty simple for the Bills. Until Allen develops that counter, they are a 10-6, 11-5 team that will run into the buzz saw that is Mahomes.
“That’s where they are,” one AFC scout says, “until he elevates them.”
In Round 1, Allen could not elevate.
Back on Oct. 19, McDermott tried to take the air out of the ball against the Chiefs. He did not want Allen engaged in a shootout with Mahomes, saying himself that he was inviting the Chiefs to run on defense. And run they did. To the tune of 245 yards. Afterward, McDermott all but declared the mission accomplished in citing the fact that the game was close late. Never mind the fact that when Mahomes needed to throw, he delivered. He had 21 completions vs. only five incompletions with a 128.4 rating and — when he needed to be calm and clutch late on third and 12 with 4:24 left — Mahomes pump-faked, rolled right with the elegance of an Olympic figure skater and hit Byron Pringle for 37 yards.
The Chiefs were perfectly content dominating time of possession — 37:45 to 22:15 — if that’s the sort of game McDermott chose.
Thinking like McDermott did that night may win a division and, hey, that’d be an accomplishment. The Bills haven’t done that since 1995.
If the goal is the Super Bowl? You cannot fear the shootout.
You embrace, and win, the shootout.
Because all roads go through Mahomes and Mahomes is, unquestionably, processing the game at an elite level. Which is precisely what we all missed at Texas Tech. On a TV screen one of his torso-torquing plays might seem like a N64 Madden glitch that he’d never duplicate in the pros. But, it turns out, there was always a method to his madness. He wasn’t treating this like backyard football. Warner points to a slant pass Mahomes once threw in college into the fourth window. All young QBs either hit that slant right out of the break or they default. They scramble. On this play, however, the Red Raiders receiver ran his slant route from the left all… the… way… to… the… right. And Mahomes found him.
What is he doing? Warner thought. He’s just making it up!
Then, Mahomes started doing the same thing in the pros.
“That’s why he has a chance to be the best ever,” Warner says. “Because he has ridiculous athletic ability and throwing ability. But he does process. He sees nuances.
“Now you go back and you look at that and go, ‘Ah! Maybe that’s more than just a young guy who stared at his receiver until he got to his fourth window. Maybe that was a really mentally talented quarterback that could see a bigger picture than we gave him credit for in college. … And it looks like the Chiefs were the only ones who could really pinpoint that and go, ‘Ah, what he’s doing is not all these wild and crazy things.’ He’s doing this because he has a mental capacity to see beyond what the play is designed to do.”
So many other quarterbacks are robots. Ask them to do anything outside of rhythm and they’re screwed. They panic. They run. Not Mahomes. When the defense tries to throw Mahomes off with a disguise, a blitz, a stunt — something Reid could not prepare him for — he finds a solution. He is what Warner calls creative “within the play.” He makes the right play again and again and again (like Brady) with the freakish gifts.
Mahomes can play poorly for three quarters in a Super Bowl and turn it on.
“So, now, if you’re a Josh Allen who’s not as talented, doesn’t see creatively like that and your technique gets away from you,” Warner says, “now that drops you way down to what you can do. That to me is where I look at ceiling and say to myself, OK, I need to see the ‘mental ceiling.’ I don’t care about the physical ceiling. … I want to see how many — or if any — of these young quarterbacks can take their game mentally to another level. Is their ceiling higher mentally than what we’re seeing right now? And that to me will determine how great they’re going to be.”
When Warner looks around the entire AFC, he does not see anybody who can go toe-to-toe with Mahomes for the next decade.
Ending the drought was a burden lifted.
Beating New England was declared a major step, too. McDermott called that 24-21 win over the Patriots “emotional” for the entire city.
Soon, the Bills may pay Allen well north of $30 million a year. That’s the going rate. There will be smiles then, too. Satisfaction in, finally, hitting the bull’s eye at QB.
But Warner cuts to the chase.
“When it’s all said and done, you’re going to be in the Patrick Mahomes Era,” Warner says. “And it’s either going to be all Patrick Mahomes or one of you guys are going to have to knock him off.”
Right now, all signs point to Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson serving as the football equivalents to Patrick Ewing and Gary Payton and Karl Malone. Talents mired in the era of a legend.
It’s on Allen to change that. He’ll get another shot at the playoffs.
It’s on Allen to elevate everyone else — not the other way around.
That moment of reckoning is coming.
The power of belief
Belief can backfire.
Belief in the wrong quarterback gets everyone fired eventually.
Belief was the mistake on another crucial date in Bills history — May 8, 2014 — when the Bills traded up from No. 8 overall to No. 4 to select Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins. Only, it wasn’t that simple. This was Doug Whaley’s first draft as GM and Whaley wanted everyone on board, from head coach Doug Marrone to CEO Russ Brandon to Monos.
Here’s what went down:
· First, the Bills tried trading up to No. 1 for Jadeveon Clowney. They knew it was a longshot. Houston wasn’t having it.
· There was a ton of love for Khalil Mack, the freak pass rusher in their own backyard. (His pro day was at their training facility!) Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz compared him to Lawrence Taylor. Monos gave him the highest grade he has ever — and would ever — give any prospect. Whaley was on board. Everyone loved the idea of trading up for Mack. Everyone, that is, except Marrone. He was not a believer so trading up for him was not an option. Says Whaley, “He thought, ‘We’ve got Mario (Williams). We don’t need that. We could use somebody on offense.”
· Monos was totally fine staying right at eight to take Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry or his No. 1 choice: mauling guard Zack Martin. If the Bills were going to draft the best player available, to him, the choice was clear: Martin. Yet, others weren’t on board. Other decision-makers had issues with selling a lineman to the fans and Beckham’s size (5’11,” 198 pounds).
· Aaron Donald? He was never a consideration. Schwartz preferred larger, thicker defensive tackles in his scheme a la Ndamukong Suh.
· Above all, the Bills wanted to help their quarterback, EJ Manuel. If they stayed put, at eight, the plan was to take tight end Eric Ebron but, no, that wouldn’t be enough, either, because the Bills really wanted to help Manuel. So, of course, the Bills traded a future first-rounder to move up for Watkins. He is the player everyone loved, the weapon they decided would skyrocket Manuel to the next level.
One minor problem.
“We could have given him as many starts as we wanted and I’m not trying to mock EJ,” Monos says. “I’m just saying, he wasn’t going to be good enough.”
The Bills incorrectly believed in Manuel and that draft proved to be the opening credits to a gruesome quarterback horror show.
That summer, Manuel was so bad the Bills convinced Kyle Orton to come out of retirement and, somehow, went 9-7. Marrone quit. Rex Ryan was hired. Into ’15, Buffalo staged a three-way QB battle between Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor and Manuel. (New OC Greg Roman had targeted Cassel as his guy.) Taylor won the job and the Bills went 8-8. Into ’16, Roman and QB coach David Lee were enamored with Christian Hackenberg and, after seeing him at Penn State’s pro day, announced to all the Bills needed to take him in the first round. Nobody else agreed so, instead, they rolled the dice on a mid-round QB to back up Taylor.
The hope was to steal Dak Prescott at 139th overall and the Cowboys took him at 135 so, gulp, Cardale Jones it was.
The Bills brass held the dinner at Tempo that fall.
Pegula fell in love with Mahomes.
The Bills went 7-9. Ryan was fired and McDermott was hired. (Not Lynn.) McDermott gained final say, the Bills passed on Mahomes in ’17, drafted Allen in ’18 and… you cannot help but wonder what happens if Whaley declares Manuel not good enough in April ‘14.
Terry Pegula hadn’t yet purchased the Bills but Monos vividly remembers the owner telling both he and Whaley that they were wrong for mortgaging a first-round pick on a wide receiver when they didn’t have the QB. They agreed. Nothing else matters if the QB isn’t the answer — your team is an uncooked ribeye with all the seasoning.
And here’s the crazy part, the needed revision to history: Whaley did not select Manuel the year prior. This was Buddy Nix’s call. Nix was the GM still. Nix had final say. And while Whaley — then Nix’s assistant — says he was “absolutely” behind that 16th overall pick in 2013, while Whaley saw no use in brawling with us in the media to set the record straight, he politely clears the air now. As Whaley relives, Nix told him he wanted to find a QB before he retired and his plan was to stick around one more year. Upon publicly declaring the Bills needed one, Nix backed himself in a corner, reached for Manuel, believed he had delivered a franchise QB to the city and — as Whaley puts, bluntly — basically said, “Hey, my job’s done here.”
A stunned Whaley took over, called Monos to be his top lieutenant and, no doubt, Monos was ecstatic to accept the offer. Still, the first thing he did was tell his close friends and family the Bills just drafted Manuel and, as the southeast scout for the Saints, he had a 3rd/4th round grade on him. When Whaley himself is asked where he had Manuel graded, he says the QB would’ve been a perfectly fine third-round pick who begins as a No. 2 and progresses into a No. 1.
But he chose to believe for that moment in time — May 8, 2014 — and the QB position got away from him. He never recovered.
No wonder then, when the current regime traded a first-rounder for Diggs, both Whaley and Monos had flashbacks.
They couldn’t help but wonder if history was repeating itself.
OK, OK. Easy now. No need for the steam bursting from your ears. Clearly, Whaley prefaces, Allen is better than Manuel. They aren’t the same quarterback though — editor’s note — Manuel’s passing efficiency (58.3%, 77.5 passer rating) isn’t exactly that far off Allen’s pace (59.8%, 85.5) and one could argue Tyrod Taylor was superior. At this exact point in his career, Taylor had a 93.0 rating. Amongst all QBs, 2000 to 2020, with a minimum 500 regular-season pass attempts at this point, Taylor’s rating ranks 14th with Allen 33rd behind the likes of Matt Moore, David Garrard and Bulger. Mahomes is No. 1.
Taylor, like Allen, could run.
And wasn’t the whole point of the dinners, the airplane fuel, the draft capital to get better than Tyrod Taylor?
You need a special talent at this position.
Through their four-year quarterback malaise, Whaley and Monos learned this the hard way.
“The principles of what you’re trying to do in saying, ‘Hey, let’s get this quarterback to the next level. Let’s surround him with some very good pieces to help him out,’” Whaley says, “that’s one of those things you learn — it’s the opposite. The quarterback should be able to elevate everybody else’s game. You can’t elevate a quarterback’s game.”
True, Diggs has been phenomenal. As has John Brown. And Cole Beasley. And Daboll.
But Pegula’s words then ring true now. When Diggs has an off day, when Daboll meets his match, when a defense confuses and blitzes and forces Allen to win with his brain, when one or all of these factors inevitably comes into play this January, Allen — and Allen alone — must elevate.
“Is he a quarterback who gets you in the conversation? Absolutely,” Whaley says. “But what’s your ultimate goal — to be in the conversation or consistently compete for championships? What they’ve done and where they picked him, that’s why the pressure’s on him. He’s going to be looked at as, ‘Can he compete for championships? Not just get us to playoffs.’”
Adds Monos, “You don’t have to sit there and bang your head over it. Is he good enough?”
Looking back, Monos admits the Bills were banging their heads against the wall to get to .500, instead of ripping that Band-Aid off, stinking up the joint for a year, and hitting the bull’s eye on a QB in the top 5. Whaley, no doubt, could’ve also clenched a fist, banged the table and made a more bold move at QB as one domino tipped the next.
Belief is insanely powerful for good and for bad.
The Bills’ faith today could pay off. There’s no quarterback remotely similar to Allen so there’s no telling what comes next and that is tantalizing. We all love the unknown in life. One opposing quarterbacks coach who witnessed a vintage Allen performance live from the sideline this season gushes over him as if he’s a lottery ticket that’ll win fans eternal joy. The Allen Effect is real up close, he pushes back. Was Allen off-script? Constantly. Did Allen lift those around him? You bet.
The Bills’ faith could also backfire. It wouldn’t be as dull ‘n dreary as signing an #Orton at the 11th Hour, nor as gradual as Taylor’s ceiling becoming clear over time. It’d be more sudden. Painful. With much steeper consequences. If Allen truly has not exorcised his demons, if Allen never learns to process defenses as Warner details, then all of the 400-yard games and jaw-dropping highlights will prove to be nothing more than a dream and everyone wakes up to a Texans-sized calamity this winter. If this is a dream, the Bills’ title window could be paper-thin, too. Once you do fork over that $100M+ deal for a quarterback — unless that $100M+ QB is a surefire elevating presence — it is mathematically impossible to glue a winning roster together.
Several teams, right now, are experiencing exactly that.
So here comes the reckoning.
The inevitable clash with, yes, Mahomes.
Other owners for other teams might deem that any coach, any scout, any janitor who had anything to do with trading out of the draft pick that nets the NFL’s Michael Jordan is a fireable offense. McDermott did not exactly bounce back from this whiff at the most important position in sports, either, inserting Nate Peterman as the starter in the middle of a playoff run before then, bizarrely, starting Peterman again Week 1 of the next season. He’s a defensive coach who has displayed a general lack of instincts around the position. Further, his overall record in three-plus years (32-27, .542 winning percentage) isn’t a huge leap from the preceding three years (24-24, .500). McDermott made the playoffs twice. He was also out-coached in those two appearances by Doug Marrone and Bill O’Brien.
Yet while Pegula likely will not forget that ’17 draft, he also won’t forget where this team was pre-McDermott.
What we saw was bad enough. The Rex Ryan Era was certifiably insane. One moment, the ex-Bills coach was leaping from an airplane 9,000 feet in the sky for the HBO cameras. The next, he was eating dog biscuits at one press conference and, why not, sashaying on up to the podium in a Clemson helmet for another. IK Enemkpali punched his own QB in the jaw? Bring him aboard! The Cubs are playing in Game 7 of the World Series, in Cleveland, during a game week? Ah, screw it, fire up the party bus!
The defensive scheme was a chaotic mess, too. Players openly trashed it. Mario Williams, a $100M Man himself, quit.
What we didn’t see, however, was even worse. Team sources recall coaches wreaking absolute havoc at the local golf course at home and making flight attendants feel uncomfortable on the road. In fact, one player remembers the flights always being stocked with booze. Another player points to the fact that Rex did not care if players partied their asses off the night before practices. Discipline was nonexistent. And that custom-painted Bills truck seemed to always depart the facility sooner than you’d expect during a game week.
It was bad. Really bad.
“A shitshow,” one source recalls.
Which all puts that fateful day, April 27, 2017, into perspective.
Under Rex, the foundation was rotting. Pegula had hired McDermott, empowered McDermott, trusted McDermott and, thus, could not overrule McDermott in his first draft. The Bills’ 22nd head coach was just planting the seeds for the program he envisioned, one widely respected throughout the league. Great scouts, great coaches, great players. You won’t hear a bad word about this team’s culture from anyone around the league. There’s no drama anymore. Only a coach offering corny jokes about smelling Cheerios off the I-190 and a team filing for a “Respect the Process” trademark.
Even Monos says Pegula can sleep at night knowing this team is structured the right way.
There is belief in Allen because there is belief in McDermott.
The bet? Allen can raise his ceiling with that snarl, that edge, that never-quit resolve. His game is McDermott’s blue-collar rhetoric brought to life and all those intangibles do matter. Ask Whaley. He remembers everything starting to click for Manuel five games into his rookie year… right when he suffered a LCL sprain at Cleveland. If Manuel doesn’t get hurt, right then, the ex-GM believes his trajectory is totally different.
“He had never really faced adversity,” Whaley says. “That was the biggest issue for him. He didn’t know how to deal with that and overcome it. And it ended up affecting his play.”
Thus, it’s true: Playing quarterback is not all about numbers. How a player is wired in moments of trauma can make or break his career. As Whaley puts, “How do you put a numerical value on intelligence, heart, competitiveness, ability to overcome obstacles?” You can’t. And these are the qualities — everyone agrees — Allen possesses in excess.
Hence, the overwhelming aroma of hope right now.
Allen blows a 28-3 lead to LA and leads a game-winning drive.
His grandmother dies. His heart is crushed. He’s lights out against Seattle.
He blows a 23-9 lead at Arizona. The gaffes return. Everything’s going wrong. He leads a 12-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that should’ve gone down in Bills lore.
He takes blistering shot after shot, bounces up every time and every single teammate notices. They play harder.
Bad moments do not loiter in his mind. He’ll fight. He’ll play reckless. He’ll be himself and, likely, he’ll get another crack at the playoffs here soon. Allen may even get a chance to face Mahomes with everything on the line. A shootout will be necessary and he will need to win with his brain.
If Allen delivers, if Allen is the answer, the city of Buffalo will never be the same again.
If not? Back to a steakhouse the Bills will go to find their next quarterback.