Frankly, since the Bills’ 26-15 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day 2019, being a Bills fan has felt like a dream. That game was a turning point for a franchise that was stuck in two decades of failure and incompetence. Since bowing out in the Wild Card round of the playoffs that year the Bills won a division title, shattered franchise records and enjoyed their best season in nearly 30 years all while re-igniting a fire of relevance throughout the NFL. The Bills rode their magical 2020 season all the way to the AFC Championship game – and then spent the offseason declaring they would be back. After an offseason of bulking up their defensive line, adding some offensive firepower, and retaining their own players, the Bills know what the outside expectations of them are. They are the same expectations that they will tell you they have for themselves and have had for themselves long before national pundits were predicting it.
Everything leading up to the kickoff of the 2021 season was storybook for the Bills. Heck, even the first play from scrimmage was storybook and Isiah McKenzie was one defender away from bringing back the opening kickoff for a touchdown. But with Sunday afternoon souring and the eventual 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bills have made one thing clear to their passionate fanbase: the 2020 honeymoon is over.
Allen seems to be getting somewhat of a pass for his performance Sunday from the fanbase. I believe Josh can still be the face of the franchise and savior quarterback and still be fairly evaluated. The best way I can sum up Josh Allen versus the Steelers was by saying he was the 2019 version of Josh Allen. Honestly, I saw that game time after time in the stadium in 2019 against teams like the Bengals, Eagles, and Ravens. Allen struggled with the deep ball and missed some throws, made some eye popping throws, and made some boneheaded throws that were lucky to not be intercepted. That was the 2019 Josh Allen experience. The 2020 version was the complete opposite. Despite finishing 2nd in MVP voting last year, Allen did have a few rough patches of games, namely after his shoulder injury against the Raiders. Maybe this is one of those rough games every quarterback is destined to have? We’ll see. But one thing is for sure, now that Allen is the second highest paid quarterback in the league, we have to evaluate him differently. Considering his place in NFL financial history, Josh Allen was bad on Sunday. I personally believe he cost them the game. A better Josh Allen wins the game for the Bills, even with the questionable penalities, the odd play choices in key points, and even with the blocked punt. We spent 20 years arguing about quarterback play costing this team games and we should not shy away from the reality. I’ll be the first one to say that Josh Allen won the Bills a ton of games last year. They would not have gotten past the Colts in the Wild Card round if it weren’t for Allen. But Sunday Allen was nowhere good enough. A player of his level and mental fortitude knows that, accepts that and will get better from that. Given his contract the buck stops with him now.
Here is my take on the “refs cost us the game” mindset. NFL offciaiting errors are going to happen, mistakes are going to be made. The goal is to put yourself in a position where a blown call by a referee doesn’t “cost you the game.” If it does make the difference between winning and losing then you didn’t make enough plays to overcome the occasional blown call anyway. If Allen hits Sanders to go up 10-0 in the 1st quarter we might not be talking about Tre White’s interception that was called back on a penalty, the holding calls, or even the Levi Wallace pass interference in the 4th quarter. The best thing any team could do is to take advantage of their opportunties along the way so one call doesn’t make you or break you.
4th Down Call
Hindsight is 20/20. Naturally, because the gaget play did not work it is easy for us to sit back and say, Daboll should have called a run on 4th and 1 with the Bills driving to extend their lead early in the 4th quarter. Would a Josh Allen QB sneak have worked on that play? Probably – it usually does. Would the Bills have scored on a Josh Allen sneak? No. It was clear that Daboll was trying to score on that play. I’d say 9 times out of 10 that specific gaget play would work and Bredia probably goes in for the touchdown. If that happens then everyone is talking about how much nerve Daboll showed with that play call instead of a run. It’s Week 1, the Bills were not in a win or go home scenario, I am fine with the idea of that type of play in that situation. Given the way the Steelers lined up to defend it, the Bills had no chance for that play to be successful. Full props to Pittsburgh on that one.
There are consequences in holding a 9 point lead in the AFC Championship game. There are consequences for shattering franchise records, for finishing 2nd in MVP voting, for signing the second richest contract in NFL history. Those consequences, of course unintended, mean that fans will hold this franchise to a higher standard than before. The 2020 dream season is over and the Bills and Allen reminded us this weekend that there is plenty more for them to overcome in this 2021 campaign. Bills fans will always have the memory of last season and while it certainly was great, we would be selling this team short if we don’t hold them to the standard they deserve going into 2021.