ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Josh Allen, having committed at least one turnover in his sixth-straight game, was asked Monday night if he was enduring the most difficult stretch of his NFL career.
He sat there, a lump. We’ve seen this forlorn and helpless version of him a few times this season. Long gone is that smirking gunslinger, whose sass used to make teammates whoop and fans swoon. There’s no sparkle in his eye, not like we saw last year when a columnist told him the Buffalo Bills didn’t look like a Super Bowl offense, and Allen fired back a defiant “OK.”
Allen is a husk of that alpha rogue now. At his news conference, raw from a degrading, 24-22 home loss to the Denver Broncos, he resembled a dispirited, embarrassed kid in the principal’s office.
Allen was short on answers, and his answers were short.
How do fumbled handoffs happen? His answer lasted five seconds. How confident is he Buffalo’s offense can recover? Six seconds. Why is he confident? Two seconds. The interception before halftime? Two seconds. His longest answer was 18 seconds.
Bills center Mitch Morse walked into the room, sat next to Allen and served as the accountable captain, providing deeper sentiments the franchise quarterback was either unable or unwilling to share.
Then came the previously mentioned question about Allen’s recent string of turbulent performances.
For nine seconds, Allen didn’t say a word. Then he offered only three of them.
“I don’t know,” he blurted.
Allen threw two interceptions Monday night, one of them his fault, the other spinning through receiver Gabriel Davis’ hands. Allen also flubbed a handoff that Denver recovered at the end of the third quarter.
Allen is broken. Maybe over the remaining seven games he can rekindle the magic made converting third-and-longs feel inevitable. Just give him one more possession — hell, one more play — and chalk up another Bills celebration.
That aura has been absent more often than not.
“He’s played well at times, and at times he hasn’t,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “You can’t turn the ball over. We’ve got to figure that out.”
Allen leads the NFL with 11 interceptions and 14 giveaways. Next up are the New York Jets, opponents who’ve amassed five interceptions, 13 sacks, 21 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles the past three times they’ve faced him.
The Jets shell-shocked Allen opening night at the Meadowlands. He might as well have crawled from a smoldering crater when he arrived for that postgame news conference.
He looked similarly vulnerable Monday night in Highmark Stadium, where the Bills hadn’t loss since the Cincinnati Bengals eliminated them from the playoffs.
“The lows are so devastatingly low in this league,” Morse said. “Safe to say, this is a pretty devastating low right now. But I do think this is when the good teams come together. Have each other’s back, man.
“I mean, listen, this is not what we’re looking for by any means, but we have to have each other’s back, and it’s being put to the test right now.”
The Bills are 5-5. At a wretched 2-5 in the AFC, their tiebreaker options are maimed, contributing severely to a 19 percent playoff probability in the New York Times’ simulator.
Allen’s not solely to blame, of course. The game ended cruelly on a 35-yard field goal as time expired. Seconds earlier, Will Lutz missed from 41 yards, but Buffalo had too many men on the field, awarding him another kick.
That, however, was a single mistake. The whole offensive operation has been catawampus for five weeks. Play caller Ken Dorsey is slightly more popular around Western New York these days than Bill Belichick wearing a Brett Hull jersey.
The Ken Dorsey conundrum and other thoughts from Bills’ shocking loss to Broncos
Running back Latavius Murray called a players-only offense meeting last week. Then again, Murray isn’t a captain (Allen is) and just got here in May on a one-year, $1.3 million deal (Allen is in his sixth season with a contract extension that’s worth a quarter-billion dollars).
The Bills acknowledged their circumstance, and their fans were no different. Angst filled the autumn air around Highmark Stadium a half hour before kickoff. Concourses were strangely lifeless, especially for a primetime game the Bills desperately needed — a brutal homestretch awaits — and were favored to win by 7.5 points.
Timid optimism and whatever patience soon yielded to boos that got louder as the night grew more tedious.
McDermott let Buffalo’s offense set the tone by winning the coin flip and electing to receive, a rare move for him. Alas, Broncos cornerback Ja’Quan McMillan stripped Cook on the first play and Denver kicked a cheap field goal. McDermott benched his starting tailback for the next three series.
Buffalo’s offense was plagued by drops. In addition to the interception that spiraled through Davis’ gloves, rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid and Murray also dropped passes that led to first-half punts. Star receiver Stefon Diggs had a third-quarter drop that contributed to a turnover on downs.
Even the Bills’ biggest gain, a 42-yard Cook scamper to make their go-ahead touchdown possible, included a fumble. Cook was stripped 9 yards into the run, but the ball luckily dribbled back into his hands in the open field.
Buffalo’s defense, missing a fifth starter with safety Micah Hyde not ready to return from a neck injury, played valiantly. Because of the turnovers and poor kick coverage, Denver’s average starting field position was its 41-yard line.
“Those guys played their a—- off,” McDermott said of his defense.
What helped Denver win was the most unlikely touchdown reception since NFL Next Gen Stats started computing such things in 2018.
In the second quarter, on fourth-and-2 from the Bills’ 7-yard line, Russell Wilson scrambled away from defensive end Shaq Lawson, rolled left and heaved a pass into the end zone. The ball dropped between cornerback Dane Jackson and safety Taylor Rapp to Courtland Sutton, who made a diving catch while somehow getting his toes inbounds.
COURTLAND SUTTON TOE DRAG TOUCHDOWN.
— NFL (@NFL) November 14, 2023
Buffalo rebounded on the next drive. Allen connected with Kincaid on a wheel route from 22 yards and added two points with a strike to Davis in the back of the end zone.
Murray scored on a 3-yard run in the third quarter. Allen scored from 6 yards out, putting the Bills ahead 22-21 with 1:55 left — their first lead all night.
Needing just a field goal, Denver survived largely thanks to a 28-yard Taron Johnson pass interference penalty. Wilson underthrew receiver Jerry Jeudy, causing Johnson to barrel into Jeudy before the ball arrived.
“I don’t think everything we’re doing is wrong,” McDermott said. “There’s some good football being played and some good football being coached. That said, it needs to be better.
“You can’t turn the ball over, and you can’t start by giving the other team field position at the minus-40 yard line. That’s not how you win this league. We’ve got to move the football and score points on a more consistent basis. And then the special teams piece has to factor in as far as field position and covering kicks, covering punts.
“Certainly, I’m not turning a blind eye to the defense. There are things we can do better there as well, but I was proud of the defense and how hard they played. We’ll address what we need to address going forward.”
Cook declined to speak after the game. Davis also demurred. Von Miller left Highmark Stadium without providing insight about not only losing to his former team, but also not being on the field for the Broncos’ winning drive. We didn’t hear from Diggs either, but we did see another social-media plea from Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs that his big brother “Gotta get up outta there,” followed by the exhausted and crying emojis.
So at least Allen got behind a microphone to give elucidation a try.
Dorsey, Allen’s hand-picked offensive coordinator after Brian Daboll left to coach the New York Giants, has faced mounting criticism. While Dorsey and Allen worked well together just a year ago, the organization’s desire to transform their dual-threat quarterback into more of a pocket passer has been a failure so far.
McDermott and Allen keep insisting they believe in Dorsey, although the head coach conceded more must be done. McDermott’s staff features former NFL offensive play callers Joe Brady (quarterbacks), Aaron Kromer (offensive line), Rob Boras (tight ends) and Mike Shula (senior offensive assistant).
If a change is made, then time is of the essence. Bye weeks provide the best opportunity for such a transition, but the Bills must play two more games to get there.
That could be past the expiration date to help Allen uncover some meaningful explanations and salvage the 2023 season.
“Yeah, I’m still confident, but it’s no secret the clock’s ticking. We’ve got to have some urgency now,” said Allen, his answer taking all of six seconds.
(Photo of Josh Allen: Timothy T Ludwig / Getty Images)