Bills coach Sean McDermott said Josh Allen was limited in practice on Wednesday. You could say the same thing about the entire offense.
“Limited” is perhaps too kind a word for an offense that could be one of the most feeble in NFL history. The Bills have scored 96 points in nine games. The UB Bulls have scored 99 in their last two.
Process that for a moment.
But Allen was throwing the ball hard with close to his customary zip in practice, while wearing a wrap on the elbow he injured in the loss to the Texans on Oct. 14. He appears to be close to return, and if team doctors give their approval he’ll be the starter on Sunday against the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
“Just taking it one day at a time, see how he does today,” McDermott said at his weekly morning press session. “We’ll know more after practice. He’s done good so far. No setbacks.”
Even if Allen does play, the chances of a meeting between two of the NFL’s top rookie quarterbacks isn’t likely to come off at MetLife. Jets rookie Sam Darnold missed Wednesday’s workout with a foot injury. Darnold was wearing a boot at practice and there were reports that he had a sprained foot and would miss Sunday’s game.
That would be disappointing. I was looking forward to a battle between the two presumed franchise guys. OK, it wouldn’t be Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers, but it would be a good chance to see them in their first divisional battle. It would have been the first time two of the Big 4 rookies started against one another this season. Baker Mayfield came off the bench to lead the Browns over Darnold and the Jets in Week. 3.
Still, I’ll settle for Allen vs. Josh McCown, the Jets’ 39-year-old backup. McCown played a solid game in a 34-21 win over the Bills on Thursday night at MetLife last November. He was an efficient 14-for-20 passing and ran for a 10-yard touchdown. The Jets gashed Buffalo for 194 yards rushing that day, the start of a dreadful three-week run of bad run defense.
The Bills are 2-7, the Jets 3-6. There are numerous parallels between the AFC East teams, who are 25-25 in their so-called rivalry since the 1993 season. Like Buffalo, the Jets are in the second year of a major rebuilding program. But Todd Bowles is in his fourth season as head coach after replacing Rex Ryan. Bowles’s seat would become very hot if he lost at home to this Bills team, even with McCown.
The Bills are 31st in total offense, the Jets 25th. The Bills lead the NFL with 22 turnovers; the Jets are third with 20. Darnold leads the league with 14 interceptions. The Bills have 16 picks, second in the league and spread among their three quarterbacks. Neither team has a wide receiver in the top 75 of the NFL in receiving yards. The Jets haven’t scored over 17 points in their six losses. The Bills are averaging 8.0 points in their seven defeats.
The Jets will have about $105 million in available cap space in the offseason. The Bills are projected to have $91 million. So both figure to be active in free agency next summer, looking to fortify their rosters for a run at the Patriots — who are well on their way to a staggering 10th consecutive divisional title.
Allen said Wednesday that he’s “trusting the process” and that the Bills are being careful to limit further damage. But if he’s working out and throwing and the doctors don’t feel he’s at added risk to aggravate the injury, he should back out there starting. At this point, any extended play under actual game conditions is a benefit.
There’s a case to be made for sitting him out Sunday. There’s a bye week coming up, which would give him another week to heal and make him stronger for the six-game stretch run. But if he’s ready, why sit him? It's also a week to rest after he plays. It’s his team now. Everyone is hurt in some fashion at this stage of an NFL season. Get him back in there.
Derek Anderson remains in concussion protocol, so the alternative is another week of Nathan Peterman, on the road against a solid Jets defense that’s sixth in yards per pass against and ninth in yards per play. The thought of Peterman starting again has to be demoralizing for the Bills, especially their beleaguered defense.
McDermott owes it to his team, and his suffering fan base, to get Allen back on the field as soon as he’s able. He’s certainly not learning much from watching Peterman struggle to throw a simple 10-yard out. The schedule gets easier now. The Bills play four of their next five against teams with losing records -- and the Dolphins are over .500 only because they beat the sorry Jets twice.
He might be using that classic coach’s gambit, holding out the identity of his starting quarterback so the opposition has to prepare for multiple options. I hardly think the Jets’ defensive coaches are lying awake at night, anguishing over which of the Bills' modern-day Johnny Unitases will be under center that this brutal offense.
Playing Allen is the merciful option. I’m not sure Buffalo fans can take another week of Peterman safely delivering the ball to a running standing a yard away in the backfield. Against the Bears, Peterman became the first QB in nearly 20 years to complete 31 passes for fewer than 190 yards in an NFL game.
It became tiresome this week, hearing people say that Peterman had played well, or as well as could be expected, and that none of the three interceptions was really his fault. Talk about limited. There’s no limit to which some people won’t go to patronize Peterman, who doesn’t belong in the NFL.
Get Allen back out there. Give Bills fans some reason to care the rest of the way.