Sean McDermott grew testy early in the week, and understandably so, after the Bills were shut out for the first time in a decade. It must be frustrating for a head coach when his team fails to muster a measly field given the staggering numbers emerging from today’s NFL.
Teams were on record pace for scoring through the first 63 games of the regular season. Leading into Week 5, they combined for 3,030 points, including 344 touchdowns and 228 passing TDs – the most in league history in all three categories.
The Bills, meanwhile, can count their touchdown total on one hand and show their passing touchdowns by flashing the peace sign. Rookie quarterback Josh Allen has accounted for four TDs – two rushing and two passing – leaving Chris Ivory with the only other rushing TD.
McDermott acknowledged Monday that he’s not a patient man. By Wednesday he was making a plea for patience when it comes to his young quarterback. Allen, the seventh pick overall, experienced some growing pains during the 22-0 loss to the Packers. More are on the way.
Allen was 5 of 19 for 58 yards in the first half and threw an unsightly interception late in the second quarter. He was sacked seven times, raising the total to 18 for the season. He has been under siege, partly his own doing, like no rookie in the first four games since David Carr was sacked 26 times in 2002.
The other four rookie quarterbacks who have appeared in a game this season – Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Sam Rosen and Lamar Jackson – have been sacked 16 times combined. Allen has taken a beating since he became the starter in the third quarter of the season opener.
“I’m not a patient guy by nature, and maybe that served me well in a job like this, but at times, maybe it’s doesn’t either,” McDermott told reporters. “As we go and develop these guys, you think [about how] we’re a young team overall and there’s going to be some of these moments. As hard as it is, you’ve got to understand where we are in the build.”
The build, or in this case the rebuild, could take some time. McDermott said the Bills will be better off for the “scars” they endured this season. He could be right, but there are no guarantees. The Bills might not know for several years whether he’s a true franchise quarterback.
Marcus Mariota was taken second overall in 2015, but the Titans still aren’t sure whether he’ll break through the threshold that separates good, dependable quarterbacks and the best in the league. He threw for 2,812 yards in 12 games as a rookie and watched his yards per game decrease every season.
Mariota is viewed by some, including McDermott, as a better quarterback now than he was as a rookie. The Titans are 3-1 this season, matching the number of victories they had with Mariota playing quarterback as a rookie. The Bills are hoping Allen will be much better than him in four years.
Allen looks like he has all the tools with his big frame, mobility and rocket launcher for an arm. He looked good in his first three games but appeared rattled and confused against the Packers. But it’s an unforgiving league, and there's only one way to gain experience. He can expect the Titans to continue the assault Sunday in New Era Field.
"The more times it comes, the more times I see it, the more comfortable I get with it and the more times I can assess what’s going on and find answers," Allen said. "It doesn’t scare me, it doesn’t put any more pressure on me. I understand that this is a process that a lot of young people go through as a quarterback in the league. I’m really looking forward to it."
Carr, the older brother of Raiders star Derek, was anointed the savior in Houston but never came close to reaching that level. The Bills, and their desperate fan base, need to be realistic when it comes to Allen without getting caught up with the video-game statistics quarterbacks are compiling.
Eight quarterbacks were on pace for 5,000 yards passing. One was Ryan Fitzpatrick, the first player to throw for more than 400 yards in each of the first three weeks. He was benched in Week 4. Deshaun Watson was only a yard per game off the 5,000-yard pace.
More telling were the quarterbacks who were not on pace for 5,000 yards. That list included Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers, three of the best passers in history. Young phenom Patrick Mahomes was just off the pace while throwing 14 touchdown passes in the first four games.
The Bills should be happy if Allen throws for more than half that many yards and 14 touchdowns this season considering the problems with their running game, which has been non-existent, and their receiving corps, which has been invisible. Allen is on pace for 2,664 yards this season, which is common for young QBs.
You want a fair comparison? Try quarterbacks when they were rookies.
Brady threw for 2,843 yards in his first year as a starter, and that came after he sat the bench for a season. Ben Roethlisberger, the NFL’s leading passer this season, threw for 2,621 yards in 14 games as a rookie. Jared Goff threw for 1,089 yards in seven games as a rookie, putting him on pace for 2,489 yards for a full season. He has thrown for 1,406 yards in four games this season.
Jamies Winston and Andrew Luck are among several current QBs who threw for big yardage early in their careers before leveling off. Of course, it helps to have top-end receivers. Allen is working with the worst 1-2 tandem in the league, and possibly franchise history, in Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones.
Allen is taking his lumps, but there will be more. The Bills can only hope that he’s better for the experience. In the meantime, their patience will be tested.
“These moments, if you learn from them, these scars that we’re taking on, if you use them the right way, you’ll look back and say, ‘That was good for us. We got the right education early and the guys learned from it,’” McDermott said. “Those teams and those individuals that stick with it usually comes out on the right end.”