Josh Allen's big game shows growth, fills Buffalo Bills with confidence

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen's first two prime-time games of the 2020 NFL season were an opportunity to add legitimacy to MVP talk after a torrid four-game start.

Instead, the AFC's Offensive Player of the Month for September struggled in back-to-back losses against two of the conference's top contenders. Allen completed 58.8% of his passes, primarily against zone coverage, and threw for four touchdowns and three interceptions against the Tennessee Titans (8-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (11-1). It appeared the perfect counter to the Bills' high-powered offense was officially on tape.

But after Allen's performance in a 34-24 victory against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night, defensive coordinators are headed back to the drawing board, starting Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC), when the Bills (9-3) host the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1).

Allen torched the 49ers for 375 passing yards and four touchdowns, completing 32 of his 40 passes (80%). The third-year quarterback led scoring drives on six of nine possessions, only failing to register points on possessions that ended with a failed fourth-and-goal conversion from the 1-yard line, a fumble by rookie running back Zack Moss and the team's lone punt of the game late in the fourth quarter.

It was a memorable performance on a national stage, one that reminded Allen's critics how much he has developed over the past two years.

"That's how he's wired. Our offense feeds off it. I just really appreciate the way he played the game tonight," Bills coach Sean McDermott said. "He played the game in a very patient way when he needed to be patient. He took some shots when he needed to take some shots. I thought [offensive coordinator Brian] Daboll called a great game and Josh and the offense executed."

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Allen's game against the 49ers was what he was able to do against the zone coverages that stymied him in Weeks 5 and 6. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Allen completed a career-high 92% of his passes against zone schemes Monday night, setting career bests for passing yards (284) and touchdowns (2) against them.

If you ask his teammates, what Allen did Monday was no accident -- especially after the criticism he faced after those early losses.

"Josh loves the hype and he loves to show people the truth," Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins said. "People always want to criticize, but Josh is one of those guys who's built for the big moments and he continues to show it in prime time after prime time and big game after big game.

"Just keep your business as usual and your play will show for itself."

Allen said he didn't see Monday night's stage as any different from any other game he's played and didn't see it as an opportunity to prove anything to the outside world. He acknowledged he felt like he was in "a zone" and recognized his performance as one of his better games of the season.

"It's one of them. We were clicking," Allen said. "It just seemed like our guys were getting open and the ball was coming out of my hand really well, protecting well. Yeah, it was a lot of fun out there, but again, still some mistakes that we can learn to fix.

"I'm not going to say it was our best game out there. But it definitely felt good to go out there and play the way we did and get win No. 9."

The consensus from the Bills seemed to be this might have been their most complete game of the season, but there's still "some meat on the bone," as McDermott put it.

Regardless of what they have left to improve on, Allen showing he's capable of beating any coverage thrown at him is a huge boon to the Bills' title hopes.