ORCHARD PARK. N.Y. — By the time the carnage was over, Josh Allen had thrown over, through and across a Patriots defense so thoroughly it was almost easy to forget how it all started for one of the game’s hottest quarterbacks.
Not just on this Wild Card playoff night, when the first of Allen’s seven touchdown drives, on his first possession of the night, featured both a 26-yard scamper and an ”excuse-me” 8-yard scoring strike that looked to all the world like he was throwing the ball away (which, he later admitted, he was). But on his NFL life, which when it started four years ago, seemed destined for the big old trash heap of NFL busts.
Four years ago, Allen was in perpetual prove-it mode after being selected No. 7 in the draft, his paper thin college résumé spawning thick volumes of scouting questions, with analysts across the country shaking their heads, or openly laughing, over what the Bills front office was thinking in taking a thrower the great Crash Davis would have described as not being able to hit water if he fell out of a [freaking] boat.
When Allen took the field and started spraying balls all over the place, the strong arm that would eventually cut through the cold and the wind looked like a liability. When he took off running before a play fully developed, the thick legs and athletic prowess that would eventually bounce off some of the game’s best defenders looked like a fallback for real quarterback play.
On Saturday night, Allen got the latest in an ongoing line of last laughs, using both that arm and those legs to turn Buffalo’s frozen tundra into his own personal playground, handling the subzero temperature and a substandard opponent with equal ease. His arm? A flamethrower, torching its way to a 47-17 drubbing of the Patriots. His legs? Some road-graders, breaking ankles like a point guard on a dribble drive. With 308 total yards in the air and an additional 66 yards on the ground, Allen was utterly unstoppable, a performance dominant enough to restamp the Bills as serious Super Bowl contenders while simultaneously reminding the Patriots there is plenty of rebuilding work yet to do.
New England had done so much in one year, reversing course from their losing 2020 season so quickly they might have made it look too easy. Getting back to the playoffs behind a rookie quarterback? No one does that. But Bill Belichick did, opening his checkbook on the free agent market to get some weapons in place, drafting Mac Jones in the first round to get them the ball, using the second year of his post-Tom Brady life to open a new chapter on his Patriot legacy.
It’s a chapter that will be co-authored by Jones, who now looks to get on his own Allen-like journey. Oh he’ll be smarting from this one for a while, from the late-season swoon that dropped the Patriots from having a slim hold on the conference’s No. 1 seed down to No. 6, from the December win in Buffalo that dissolved into losses at Indy, against Buffalo and Miami and, ultimately, from the lopsided loss to a clearly superior Bills team Saturday.
But as Jones finished off his night with a second touchdown throw in the game’s final minutes, after he connected for the second time on fourth down to Kendrick Bourne, he made it a point to work his way up and down his team’s sideline for handshakes and hugs, putting a wrap on a pretty impressive debut season. He started all 18 games after beating out veteran Cam Newton in training camp, went toe-to-toe with the likes of Brady and Dak Prescott in early high-scoring losses, directed a vital game-winning drive on the road in Houston, beat up on overmatched teams such as the Jets and Jaguars, and impressed an entire franchise with his consistency, preparation and maturity.
But he never had a chance Saturday, not after Allen blasted his way to a 7-0 lead, not after Micah Hyde dove past Nelson Agholor for an incredible interception in the end zone to thwart the Pats’ first possession, not after that turnover turned into a 14-0 lead, an ominous sign of where the Bills were headed. Seven possessions, seven touchdowns for Buffalo, with Allen authoring dominance everywhere. First time it’s been done in the playoffs.
“It doesn’t feel unbelievable just because we’ve got Josh Allen,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said, “but that’s unbelievable.”
The Bills came into this season as a hot title contender, the losers of last year’s AFC Championship game who returned intent on taking a final Super Bowl step. But it took them months to find their mojo, a seemingly aimless search that hit its nadir in that windswept December loss to these Patriots followed by a carve-up by familiar old foe Brady in Tampa. But then, in a dominant visit to Gillette, they rediscovered their identity. They did it behind Allen, the new sheriff in town.
Let’s go back to the start of Saturday’s game, to that throw to Knox when Allen had scampered behind his offensive line for nearly 10 full seconds, eventually drifting all the way to the right sideline in a futile search for a receiver. Convinced there was none available, he let the ball fly anyway. Knox, who’d been crossing back and forth at the back of the end zone, leapt up and grabbed it.
“I got to the sideline and I said to Josh, ‘Thanks man, thanks for throwing it to me,’ and he said, ‘I meant to throw it away,’ ” Knox said, in awe. “The plays he’s made this year have just been incredible.”
Especially the ones he didn’t even know he’d made. Allen heard cheers after unleashing the ball, but couldn’t see its conclusion, didn’t actually know what happened until the scoreboard showed a replay four minutes later.
“I was like, ‘Holy crap, I did not mean for that to happen,’ ” he said. “Dawson was in the right place at the right time.”
Turns out, Allen is in the right place too, with a journey in Buffalo that Jones would do well to emulate in New England.
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