Josh Allen didn’t answer every question with his performance Sunday. The Buffalo Bills rookie still looks like a flawed young quarterback trying to find his way in the NFL, but he’s also showing signs of progress.
Allen had no ill-effects of an injured passing arm that sidelined him for more than a month, reaffirmed he still inflict damage with his legs and helped the Bills to a 24-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in an unsightly game for both teams at New Era Field.
Allen uncorked his rocket arm with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Robert Foster in the first quarter, and he gave Buffalo the lead for good after scooting 14 yards for another TD in the fourth. The Bills (4-7) earned their second straight victory and handed the Jags (3-8) their seventh straight loss.
Leonard Fournette scored on two short touchdown runs before he and Buffalo end Shaq Lawson were ejected after exchanging punches in the third quarter. Their dustup came after Donte Moncrief caught a pass near the goal line and wrestled with Levi Wallace over possession.
The game was decided by Allen, who gained 99 yards on 13 carries and broke the franchise record for most rushing yards in a game by a quarterback. He also completed eight of 19 passes for 160 yards and the touchdown pass to Foster.
Allen gave the Bills a 21-14 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter when he broke through the middle of the defense for his third rushing touchdown of the season. It came after a strange series of events after Jacksonville threatened to take the lead.
Jacksonville had an apparent touchdown called back upon review and failed to score from the 1. The Jags ended up moving backward before Josh Lambo pulled a 42-yard field goal attempt. It was an unsightly sequence in an ugly game.
Receiver Isaiah McKenzie also scored touchdowns for the Bills in the first quarter. McKenzie found the end zone on an end-around while Allen found Foster with his longest touchdown pass of the year to give Buffalo a 14-0 lead.
Blake Bortles had a rough afternoon against the Bills’ defense. He completed 12 of 27 passes, one touchdown and two interceptions. He found Dede Westbrook for a short score with 1:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Buffalo and Jacksonville played like two teams with 3-7 records going into the game. Both offenses struggled to move the ball in a game littered with sloppy plays, mistakes and penalties. The outcome wasn’t decided by the better team so much as which was less terrible.
For the Bills, it mattered little.
Allen’s development this season was among their top priorities after they selected him seventh overall in the draft. His progress was stunted first by getting rushed into the lineup when Nathan Peterman struggled in the opener and again when he suffered a sprained elbow.
The rookie’s return, and whether he learned anything from more than a month on the sidelines, was a key storyline going into the game. Allen had become becoming more comfortable with the offense and the speed of the NFL before he was injured but still had a long road ahead.
Any questions about whether he was physically capable were answered on his 75-yard pass to Foster in the first quarter to give the Bills a 14-0 lead. Allen was under heavy pressure but stepped into the pocket and rifled a perfect throw to Foster down the field.
Allen merely needed to look the part to show improvement. He often looked uncomfortable in the passing game was showed a penchant for running away from pressure rather than stepping into the pocket and throwing with conviction. It ended with the strike to Foster.
The Bills were coming off their best performance of the season, a 41-10 blowout over the Jets in which they started journeyman Matt Barkley over Peterman at quarterback. Allen was immediately inserted into the lineup once he was healthy.
Jacksonville, which was a popular choice to win the Super Bowl this season, had been drowning in losses and gasping for playoff survival after dropping six straight contests. Losing to the Bills would have cranked up pressure that had been building on head coach Doug Marrone.
Right when it appeared the Jags would board the bus and call it a season, they marched down the field for a score. Fournette banged his way for a 5-yard touchdown and a 14-7 deficit, adding intrigue to a game between two teams struggling to stay alive.
Jacksonville stormed back on its next possession. Dede Westbrook ran off tackle and raced 43 yards down the sideline, Fournett picked up 21 yards on his next two carries and finished the drive with a 1-yard plunge to tie the game, 14-14.
Allen showed he could still be effective with his feet. He wasted little time taking off throughout the game when given rushing lanes. He gained 45 yards on one play, and he gave Buffalo the lead for good when he saw daylight between him and the end zone early in the fourth.
It wasn’t pretty for the Bills, but it was enough.