Right now, we’re experiencing a tale of two quarterbacks in the AFC East.
A highly-touted golden-boy with a babyface out of the alleged quarterback factory of USC, where he won a Rose Bowl, Sam Darnold was selected third overall in the 2018 draft to the New York Jets, a franchise amongst the other suffering New York teams like the Knicks or the Mets in need of a savior. This was supposed to be the guy; he passed all the eye tests, performed well at the combine, and set the league on fire in his debut by destroying the Lions on Monday Night Football, 48-17. Reactionary New York and National media outlets crowned him king of New York the following Tuesday as the 20-year-old shined on the big stage in his first opportunity.
That all seems so long ago.
The rest of the season rolled on as Darnold was in and out of games due to injuries, but he had the 2nd-most interceptions in the league with 15 and the Jets limped to a 4-12 record. They fired the coach and hired Adam Gase, attributing Darnold’
s struggles to rookie inexperience, injury, and lack of talent around him. They needed more time to build and significant changes were necessary.
Fast forward to now. The Jets are possibly the biggest embarrassment in sports. Gase is a laughing stock who publicly chastises the key players and the media who then turn on him, the roster is constantly injured, the general management operates on a totally different timeline than it should, and the draft picks and free-agent signings are all busts. You know what that makes for? A losing team.
Thus, Sam Darnold gets every excuse in the world for his mistakes. People defend his age, the dumpster-fire circumstances around him, the lack of weapons, and the high-stakes pressure of the New York media; the guy did have to sit out last year after contracting mono, then he got caught on a hot mic against New England saying “I’m seeing ghosts out there,” which doesn’t exactly exude confidence.
This might all be true, but that’s the luck of the draw, isn’t it? When you’re a high draft pick, you’re traditionally selected by a poor team that needs a young quarterback to help revive them. The Jets are doing everything they can to make that impossible for Darnold, but is there a point where you just have to accept your losses and acknowledge that it’s too much for him? We can’t keep imagining what Darnold could have been in a better situation because the reality is this is his situation. And he’s not winning.
On the other side of the spectrum in Buffalo, they also took a young quarterback in the 2018 draft by trading up to get him with the 7th overall pick. The Bills were already coming off a year where they qualified for the playoffs carried by their strong defense and smart coaching- they felt the QB was the missing piece with how talented t
he rest of the young roster would be for the next several years.
Josh Allen was the pick. At 6’5 237 lbs and great foot speed, he was highly regarded for his size and how far he could throw the ball.
Skeptics, of which there were many, just wondered if he could do so with accuracy.
Coming out of a small school in Wyoming, where his winning against “real” competition in college wouldn’t be proven, he really only had the measurables and individual highlights as proof that he could be a top pick. On top of that, with the recent success of smaller quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees, teams just didn’t place as much value on the body types of the quarterbacks anymore. Nevertheless, Buffalo felt like they had their guy.
He’s played like an absolute roller coaster so far. He’s mobile but bigger than everyone else, so he ends up plowing through everyone like a muscular stallion avoiding being tied down by ranch hands. He unleashes his cannon of an arm by throwing heat-seeking missile strength passes that initially were “wild risks.” His improvisational-style of play where he’s forced to run around and think on the fly can make for the most disastrous outcome of all-time if he hesitates or instinctively makes the wrong choice or makes for the most miraculous, “how did he do that” outcome.
He was drafted into a situation as drastically different from Sam Darnold’s as it gets to a team where his position was the only question mark, so he didn’t have the “lack of surrounding coaching and talent” excuse that Darnold has the capability of leaning on throughout his struggles. If Josh Allen was failing, it was because of Josh Allen, which only highlighted any of the mistakes he made as a developing player. Being the focal point of a team with the “win-now” mindset puts an enormous amount of pressure to play well and play well quickly; his developing period that would’ve normally been met with grace by other young quarterbacks was met with frustration by us as we knew the roster was only missing their franchise guy.
We continue to tell ourselves that Sam Darnold will figure it out and become what we made him out to be as soon as he gets a better coach and some weapons, but that’s just not the reality. He didn’t get drafted by the Bills as Allen did. He got drafted by the Jets, a franchise in turmoil. The reality is that we haven’t seen him win and maybe he revives his career down the line, possibly in a different city.
Sure, Josh Allen was blessed to be drafted by the Bills. Would their careers have played out differently should they have undergone a Freaky Friday draft swap? Undoubtedly so. But we can’t let that take away from Allen’s success and progression into an MVP-candidate this year. He’s increased the number of wins in Buffalo each season he’s played, going 6-10 the first year and 10-6 with a playoff appearance in which he fell short in a close game against the Houston Texans. It wasn’t just the improvement of the team, either; the way that Allen carried himself as a leader, making tough decisions by throwing bomb passes or diving through 300-pound lineman is building his confidence and earning the trust of his teammates.
This year, the Bills are 4-0 BECAUSE of Allen rather than WITH Allen. He threads the needle into the most minuscule windows, primarily to his new weapon, Stefon Diggs, who leads the league in receiving yards thus far at 403 yards. He’s got 12 touchdowns with only 1 interception.
It’s clear that head coach, Sean McDermott, has helped him mature in his decision-making and passing mechanics; now with the division-rival Patriots transitioning into an era without Tom Brady, Buffalo will be more motivated than ever to take over the AFC East, and it starts and ends with the guy people are still comparing to a Jets quarterback who is 11-19.
Bills fans, or Bills Mafia as they’re referred to, are notorious for their tailgates where they jump and smash themselves through tables. Josh Allen plays exactly like that.
It’s intense, beautiful yet ugly, reckless by nature, and just plain fun, and it is an absolute thrill ride to watch every single Sunday.
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