ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Let's pretend 100 football fans missed the 2018 NFL draft and the first 12 games of the 2019 season. And let's pretend they were told Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game (CBS) features a matchup of the best two quarterbacks from that class.
In a first round that also included QBs Baker Mayfield (No. 1 overall), Sam Darnold (No. 3) and Josh Rosen (No. 10), Allen (No. 7) and Jackson (No. 32) were viewed by many draft analysts as having the lowest floors of the five. However, they have elevated their play to a level their 2018 peers haven't reached. They are the NFL's top two rushing quarterbacks (Jackson has 977 rushing yards and 7 rushing TDs; Allen has 430 and 8) and are a combined 19-5 this season.
Although neither is a finished product, they appear to have landed with organizations that are ideal fits for their skills. And Allen has enjoyed their shared role as the underdogs of the 2018 class.
"Lamar wasn't anointed the guy until he went out there and started making some plays," Allen said. "Everybody had their doubts about him, and he's gone and he's proved everybody wrong. Being a guy that's had that situation where guys wanna doubt you, and to go see him doing what he's been doing and just kinda proving everybody wrong, it's just been awesome to watch."
Coach Sean McDermott said the Bills (9-3) did their homework on Jackson but were ultimately drawn to Allen; neither team, in his opinion, made the wrong choice -- especially considering the MVP hype Jackson (2,532 passing yards, 25 TD passes, 5 interceptions) is getting this season.
"We spent some time with Lamar and went through the process with him as well," McDermott said. "He was a fantastic player then and he remains a fantastic player. Great young man, at least in my interactions, our interactions with him. It wasn't so much about that as it was, we wanted Josh Allen and everything that Josh Allen brought to Buffalo.
"And so, that was the right fit for us. No disrespect at all; obviously the Ravens got a fantastic player, and credit goes to them, and we feel good about where Josh is."
Learning from loss to Patriots
After a rookie season in which he was statistically one of the NFL's least efficient passers, Allen flashed more of the same through the Bills' first five games this season; the team was 4-1, but he had an 8-to-9 touchdown-to-turnover ratio that included three interceptions in a 16-10 loss in Week 4 against the New England Patriots.
Allen said that loss provided clarity, after which the game more or less slowed down for him.
"It was one of those games that obviously wasn't pretty, but I think it was necessary for growth and for development there, and understanding what I can and can't do on a football field," Allen said. "After that week I just kind of thought to myself, 'I need to be better. I need to do things different.'"
Since the Bills' Week 6 bye, Allen has a 16-2 touchdown-to-turnover ratio, his only turnovers coming on a lost fumble in Week 8 and an interception in Week 12.
Limiting his turnovers and his tendency to play "hero ball" was an oft-discussed focal point this offseason, one Allen could effortlessly recite but had trouble displaying on the field. He has raised his completion percentage nearly 10 points from his rookie season (61.5% from 52.8%) and set career highs in passer rating in two of his past three games.
"I've said this plenty of times and I'll continue to say it -- [my] confidence in Josh has never wavered," Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. "He continues to improve, and that's what we strive for each week, is to improve. Is it always going to be perfect? Absolutely not. ... He has a lot of respect from his teammates. He's been playing good football, and we're going to need him to continue to do that."
Turning the corner
Allen continuing to prove his season is no fluke
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Buffalo is winning because of Allen, not in spite of him. He has progressed from loose cannon to game manager to game winner this season -- something a national audience witnessed when he dismantled the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. He completed 19 of 24 passes for 231 yards with one touchdown and rushed for another score. He has passed for 2,591 yards with 16 TDs and 8 interceptions -- big improvements from his erratic rookie year.
The Bills never wanted him to be anything other than himself -- albeit, a more refined version. That refinement, McDermott said, is the biggest difference in the former Wyoming product.
"Just development overall -- whether it's understanding defenses a little bit, NFL-style defenses," McDermott said. "And that's natural for the progression from the first year to the second year. Just mechanics a little bit and, I think, just command of the overall offense. He's worked at it.
"There's guys that come in and they expect their second year just to be better just because it's their second year; Josh Allen works his tail off."
As Allen broke through, so did Buffalo's offense.
In the first four games after the bye, Buffalo averaged 292.5 yards per game, ranking 27th in the NFL during that span. In the three games since the Bills rank third at 401.3 yards per game. Allen's play is a major part of that as he has accounted for eight touchdowns over that stretch. It seems this offense, which added nine new starters this season, has finally jelled.
"You've got to understand, we're all fresh faces, fresh guys -- it takes time," running back Frank Gore said. "Over the past couple weeks, our offense has been rolling. Coach Daboll's been doing a great job, our quarterback's been balling, showing he's one of the top guys in this league these last couple weeks."
Already sporting the NFL's third-best defense in terms of both yards (300.1) and points (15.7) allowed per game, the Bills could be a serious threat in the playoffs with a more high-powered offense. Buffalo is two games ahead of Pittsburgh (7-5) and Tennessee (7-5) in the AFC wild-card race and one game behind New England (10-2) for the AFC East lead. It can clinch a playoff spot with a win against Baltimore and some help.
But before the Bills start thinking about the postseason, some tough matchups await, including consecutive road games against the Steelers and Patriots following Sunday's showdown with Baltimore (10-2).
To keep winning, the Bills need Allen to keep progressing.
"Things are going in the right direction right now and I'm seeing things pretty well, but that's something that can go away," he said. "So, I have to continue to stay on top of it, continue to keep working hard."