When Josh Allen was asked to process his emotions Monday night — after a 24-22 loss to the Denver Broncos that was a sprawling organizational debacle — he stared down at the microphone planted in front of him. After a long pause through a thousand-yard stare, the Buffalo Bills quarterback settled on a wounded assessment connecting him to many of his lowest places.
“It sucks,” he said.
It’s a phrase Allen uses a lot, efficiently encapsulating a multitude of deflating moments in his career. It sucked in September when he turned the ball over four times in a loss to the New York Jets. It sucked in 2019 after a late-December loss to the New England Patriots. It sucked when he got a false positive on a COVID test in August of 2020. And it really sucked in 2018 when controversial tweets from his teenage years surfaced before the NFL Draft.
But there was something about Monday night’s embarrassing loss, which precipitated the firing of offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey on Tuesday, that felt familiar in Allen’s assessment. Maybe it was the shock of the moment or Allen’s brief, dead-air answers. Or perhaps it was simply the lingering feeling that something underneath the Bills, something hard to get at, remains broken.
It’s been 661 days since the Bills suffered a 13-second collapse against the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round of the playoffs. An infamous moment Buffalo history that saw Patrick Mahomes march the Chiefs to a game-tying field goal despite getting the ball with only 13 seconds left in regulation. Kansas City would tie the game on that kick, then score a game-ending touchdown in the first possession of overtime.
“It sucks the way it happened,” Allen would say afterward.
More than 21 months later, on a night that saw the Bills turn the ball over repeatedly and commit some costly penalties that should be laid at the feet of the coaching staff, it’s back to that square one assessment. But this recognizable valley comes with a an even more damning vantage. Looking back to that playoff loss to the Chiefs — which included a vow from Allen about holding onto that empty feeling and never letting it happen again —it’s hard to see how these Buffalo Bills aren’t simply a worse edition of their younger, cockier selves of yesteryear.
They don’t look like a team that got up after getting laid out by the Chiefs in back-to-back playoff losses. If anything, despite the additions to the roster and the gained experience of Allen, the Bills look like a team that is regressing.
Some of it is demonstrable in the way Allen plays, reverting back to a turnover-prone style that seemed to be checked by the presence of former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Statistically, there is no evidence of a massive drop-off in the Buffalo offense under Dorsey. The Bills still have a top-10 scoring offense and are seventh in the NFL in average yardage per game. But they’re also turning the ball over at critical moments and have sputtered to a scoreboard output of less than 25 points in six straight games. The until often lacks consistency and still doesn’t have the complimentary cohesion that typically defines Super Bowl-winning teams.
As Bills head coach Sean McDermott summed it up Tuesday, “We’ve got to find that confidence, we’ve got to find that energy, we’ve got to find that consistent level of production.”
They also might have to find the old Josh Allen spark, too. He’s not functioning at his peak level right now, still making too many bad decisions and still occasionally playing reckless style of hero ball. But what was most troubling about watching him address the media Monday night, there is a level of fire that seems to be dimming as the losses and mistakes pile up.
Maybe that will be resolved by the elevation of Joe Brady to the offensive coordinator spot. Perhaps the guy who saw his star rocket upward alongside Joe Burrow at LSU can reignite Allen and the rest of the Bills offense. He certainly wasn’t able to capture that same magic with the Carolina Panthers, where he was fired after less than two seasons as former coach Matt Rhule’s offensive coordinator, while being criticized inside that building as seeming overwhelmed by the job.
It will be interesting to see what McDermott asks of Brady where it concerns different layers of the quarterback position. He repeatedly brought up the idea of changing the energy around the offense with the switch from Dorsey to Brady. He also mentioned some “tough love” aspects of coaching Allen while expecting more.
“[He’s] probably not where we’d like him to be,” McDermott said. “That’s natural based on some of the results that we’ve gotten his year — some of the results he’s gotten, some of the turnovers in particular. But I’m confident that he’ll find it. I think again, with some of the new energy around our offense, my hope is — and my aim is — that it will create a little bit of confidence, clarity and an ability to anticipate [things] as opposed to, in some cases, react[ing]. I think that’s what a part of playing the quarterback position is all about.”
Taken in the wider context of where these Bills were supposed to be going in Allen’s prime years, it’s at least mildly troubling that McDermott is still talking about confidence and anticipation at the quarterback position. Those were traits that were supposed to be worked out in Allen’s early years of development, with Allen’s late 20s becoming the portion of his career that he brought along and raised the level of other players.
Right now, this moment in time, should be Allen molding the offense himself, with the Bills in the center of their Super Bowl window. Instead, the quarterback is now onto his third offensive coordinator since that stunning playoff loss to the Chiefs, and the entire staff is going to be tasked with fixing Allen before they can once again take full advantage of his ceiling.
That’s a harsh reality to face, and it traces all the way back to that Chiefs loss. The Bills and Allen aren’t quite right. And they haven’t been since that 13 seconds changed the trajectory of seemingly everything.