It was Allen early, but Darnold late

The Jets win the battle of rookie quarterbacks

Howard Simon
December 09, 2018 - 6:28 pm

Photo: Rich Barnes - USA TODAY Sports

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The Buffalo Bills followed the lead of the Buffalo Sabres this weekend.

When there Bills took a 14-3 lead late in the first quarter over a New York Jets team they obliterated just four weeks ago, perhaps they thought this was going to be an easy day at work. It sure looked like that’s what happened to the Sabres on Saturday. They jumped out to an early 2-0 lead over a Philadelphia Flyers team they had beaten earlier in the season in a game where they scored four first period goals. The Sabres ended up getting blown out by the Flyers by a 6-2 score. The Bills didn’t get blown out by their AFC East rivals. Instead, they found a way to lose a game that looked like a certain victory after the first 15 minutes.

In a nutshell, the Bills offense moved the ball but couldn't finish drives over the final three quarters. The defense collapsed, giving up touchdowns to the Jets on two of their final three drives, and for the second straight week the Bills special teams were horrible.

However, this game was all about the young quarterbacks. This marked the first time this season that two of the five quarterbacks taken in the first round of the draft last April had started against each other. Josh Allen got off to a very good start, but couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch. It was the reverse for his counterpart Sam Darnold, who started out slowly but drove the Jets to the come from behind victory.

Allen and the Bills took the opening kickoff and ripped off an 11-play, 73-yard touchdown drive. Allen stood strong in the pocket on an 18-yard throw to Robert Foster. He also showed a nice touch while converting a 3rd-and-7 with a throw he had to put over an edge rusher. As was the case in the last two games, Allen used his legs as a key weapon. He had a 31-yard run on this drive and ran in from six yards out for the touchdown.

Allen had three short completions on the Bills' second touchdown drive, which covered 75 yards in seven plays. The Bills were up 14-3 after the first quarter and Allen was 5-of-9 passing for 42 yards, to go along with 48 yards rushing and the touchdown. That was the high point of the afternoon for the Bills' offense. Over their next eight drives, they could only produce three field goals.

Allen didn’t have much help from his offensive line, which had trouble handling the Jets packages of blitzes and stunts. Allen was flushed from the pocket numerous times and faced pressure in the pocket in other instances. The running game didn’t help either. LeSean McCoy had only two carries before suffering a game-ending hamstring injury. Chris Ivory, who also left the game injured, had just 42 yards on 12 carries, and Marcus Murphy managed a mere 10 yards on four carries. This coming against the 26th-ranked run defense in the NFL. Allen was, once again, the Bills' best threat in the ground game. He topped 100 yards (101 on nine carries) for the second straight week. Allen broke Michael Vick’s record for most rushing yards by a quarterback over a three-game span, and is now the Bills' leading rusher for the season, passing McCoy.

Allen was also off target on a number of throws and fumbled on one of his scrambles, giving the Jets a drive start at the Bills' 32-yard line. Allen also threw a terrible interception in the first half on a play where he was running towards the Bills sideline. Instead of just throwing the ball out of bounds, he tried to play the role of hero and threw across his body back into the field, and it was an easy pick for the Jets. Allen completed just 50-percent of his passes (18-of-36) for 206 yards and two interceptions. He now has the same number of rushing touchdowns (five) as he does passing touchdowns.

Darnold, on the other hand, pulled out the come from behind win in his first game back after missing three weeks with an injury. He started slowly and actually left the game briefly with, what appeared to be, a foot injury. Through the Jets' first seven possessions, Darnold was just 7-of-11 for 65 yards. The Jets offense scored a touchdown on a drive that started at the Bills' eight-yard line after an 86-yard kick return from Andre Roberts. They got a field goal off the drive that began at the Bills' 32 after the Allen fumble. They added another field goal on a drive starting at their own 46, following a 51-yard kick return by Roberts. 

The Jets didn’t go away. A Stephen Hauschka field goal gave the Bills a 20-13 lead with 1:29 left in the third quarter, and that’s when Darnold went to work.

First came an 11-play, 85-yard touchdown drive that ended on a seven-yard pass from Darnold to Robby Anderson. Darnold did a great job of keeping the play alive. He scrambled to his right and avoided a diving Kyle Williams, then scrambled back to his left before zipping a pass to Anderson, who had gotten free from Tre'Davious White.

A Hauschka field goal put the Bills back in front 23-20, but Darnold led another touchdown drive that featured the best throw of the day from either of the rookie quarterbacks. Darnold unleashed a perfect deep ball to Anderson by the Jets sideline. The 37-yard throw was a thing of beauty, and Anderson made a nice over-the-shoulder catch against good coverage from White. The Jets ran the ball in on 4th-and-goal from the Bills' one-yard line.

Allen had a chance to produce a second fourth quarter comeback at home this season, but he was way off on a throw for Zay Jones and Trumaine Johnson picked it off, sealing the win for the Jets.

After showing positive signs against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Miami Dolphins, this was an uneven day for Allen, who was more effective as a runner than a passer. It looked like it was going to be a fun day for Allen and a fourth win of the season for him, but his fellow rookie Darnold had the last word, making for a miserable weekend for the Sabres and Bills.

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