Josh Allen’s first two NFL seasons were a roller-coaster ride that had Bills Mafia convinced that either he’d blossom into the franchise quarterback the team has lacked since the days of Jim Kelly, or things would completely go off the rails as they had for so many other prospects.
But after a record-breaking 2020 season, Allen has gotten everyone on board for what figures to be a fun ride for many years to come. When it came to decision-making, accuracy and consistency, Allen took giant steps in 2020, and the results for the Bills were stunning: a 13–3 finish, their first AFC East Division title since 1995 and first AFC title game appearance since 1993.
During and after the Bills’ playoff run, Allen, who finished second to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in MVP voting, talked about how he has channeled his fiery competitiveness, the impact of star receiver Stefon Diggs, his place among the NFL’s new breed of quarterback, the winning culture head coach Sean McDermott has established in Buffalo and what it will take to dethrone the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC.
Athlon Sports: The team’s 2019 season playoff loss at Houston obviously was a great learning experience. How did that serve you heading into last season?
Josh Allen: I think the main lesson was to not press, understand the situations we were in. Obviously, if I could change things I would, but I’m glad they went down the way they did because I was able to learn a lot and (I was able) to carry that playoff experience into (last season). I’m grateful for the lessons I learned in that game and really throughout the three years in the NFL I’ve played so far. Without failure, people don’t know success, so again, we have to keep finding ways to put our best foot forward.
Jim Kelly’s third season in 1988 was the year when the Bills took a giant leap and became a perennial Super Bowl contender for a time. Is history repeating?
I can’t make comparisons to then and now, but we just love playing football here. I think it’s the guys we brought in, how hard everybody works, how much we care about our brothers on the team, our families off the field. We’re not trying to let anybody down, and you can see we have a purpose, and Coach McDermott does a good job of preaching that purpose to us. We know how much this team means to the city of Buffalo, the fans here and alums who have played here, and it’s a special place to play football. But at the end of the day, we’re on the field playing for each other.
Do you believe that close-knit locker rooms win?
I believe that’s an extremely powerful message — the reason being, you trust the guys, you want to play for them and not let them down. That’s what we have in this locker room. We have a lot of love for each other, guys who go out there and bust tail each day, hold each other accountable, and that’s set from the top, (owners) Kim and Terry (Pegula) and the precedent they set for the front office down to the head coach and everybody in the organization. We’re all pulling for one thing, and we’re beating with one heartbeat now. It’s a good feeling.
After two years of growing pains, were you more prepared in your third year? Your accuracy jumped from 58.8 percent to 69.2 and touchdown passes from 20 to 37, both team records.
Prepared for sure, just understanding our offense better than anybody, and having the relationship I do with (offensive coordinator Brian) Daboll and (QB coach Ken) Dorsey, and trusting our guys up front and outside to do their jobs consistently. And they rely on me to do my job consistently. I just think there’s a lot of trust on this team.
Would you say you’re still ultra-competitive but now better able to channel that enthusiasm into better decisions?
I guess you could say that. I try and not let the outside noise distract me and just focus on what I can do for this team.
How do you not drift back into trying to do too much, especially with your legs?
Again, it’s a trust factor I’ve built with my [playmakers]. I understand I want the ball in their hands as much as they want it; that’s my mindset. Our guys do a great job of getting open and making plays after the catch, the guys on the front five blocking, our running backs running hard; it’s really that simple. I’m just trying to be the best version of me, as Coach McDermott preaches.
Wide receiver Stefon Diggs certainly was the best version of himself in his first year in Buffalo after coming over from Minnesota, leading the league in catches (127) and receiving yards (1,535). How did his addition impact the team?
He’s special. One on one, he does an unbelievable job of creating separation and with his speed, we’ve got a guy — and there are a few in the league — that it really doesn’t matter what you do against him. It’s a huge weapon for an offense. And we have a few other guys [Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis] who are just athletic freaks who can do things nobody else can in this league.
At the end of the playoff loss to the Chiefs, you and Diggs shared a moment, and Stefon was the only Bill left on the field watching the Chiefs celebrate. What was that about?
It just shows his competitive nature, wanting to feel those emotions and use them this offseason going forward, so he doesn’t have to experience that again. I know why he did it. It’s definitely going to fuel him. Our embrace, that was just me telling him I love him, what he meant to me and that we have some more work to do and there’s no doubt in my mind we’ll be back.
You and Daboll, the architect of the NFL’s No. 2 scoring offense (501 points), will also be back for a fourth year together. How important is that?
I’m extremely surprised he didn’t get a chance to be a head coach; he’s one of the greatest dudes and one of the greatest coaches I’ve been around. I know his time will come, but I’m just super excited and glad to have him back, to keep this thing rolling. I know he has the same feelings and same fire to come out [this] year and get the results we want done.
You, Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson made history by becoming the first first-round trio from the same QB class (2018) to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs in the same year. Do you see a changing of the guard in the NFL?
Both are just great guys, and they are special players. It’s a cool class to be part of, for sure. But that (changing of the guard) doesn’t affect me. I don’t care about that too much, I’m just trying to be the best quarterback for the Buffalo Bills I can be.
You’re very self-aware and not afraid to take ownership of your mistakes, but don’t you want to just exhale and enjoy what you accomplished last season?
I mean, it probably won’t happen soon because we didn’t accomplish our team goal. I’m not an individual award guy, a statistical type of guy, but I am a team-oriented guy who wants to win football games and ultimately wants to win Super Bowls and championships. We didn’t get it done in that game (AFC Championship Game vs. the Chiefs, a 38–24 loss); so many plays I could’ve done something different and put our team in better situations to win. I don’t want this to be a broken record of looking back and saying we could’ve done something different. We have to find ways to win, that’s as plain and simple as I can get.
Buffalo broke the New England hex, but what about the Kansas City hex? You lost twice to Patrick Mahomes last season; is the gap that big?
They’ve hosted three AFC Championship Games in a row and had back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, so yeah, that’s what every team wants … to be how they are right now and have that sustained success, to have a quarterback like that who gives you a chance to win every game. That’s how every team would want to be, having that ability to win multiple Super Bowls.
If a wild card loss fueled last season’s dizzying heights, what will losing a conference title game do for you and your teammates in 2021?
As a team, we’ll use it the right way, I have no doubt about that. Every year is different, different players and teammates, but the foundation here, that’s not going to change. We have to continue to trust the process and follow Coach McDermott’s footsteps and be better. Against Kansas City, we didn’t put our best product on the field, but hats off to the Chiefs; that’s a really good team that has won a lot of games for a reason. No excuses as to why we didn’t do it, other than we have to go out there this offseason and get better and find areas to improve in every way we can.
Laramie, Wyoming, was the perfect small college town for you, and you’ve said Buffalo is the perfect small pro football town for you. How does that affect the possibility of a new contract?
It’s just the feeling, the sense I get playing here. It feels like home, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. As for a contract, I haven’t thought about that at all; I’ve been so focused on trying to do my job for the Bills, and whatever happens, happens. I’m not stressing about it. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, I guess.
What have you proven in your three NFL seasons?
What have I proven? That they didn’t make a mistake when they drafted me, but I have to continue to go out there with that same mindset and just try and help this team win in whatever way I can.