Meiler: Fluellen setting stellar example in Tennessee

Mike Meiler

If nothing else, Sunday’s game against New England was supposed to provide Bills fans with a few answers. While the outcome didn’t mean a whole lot to the Bills’ expectations for 2019, the Mafia expected to have a better idea of just what they were looking at after the Bills’ first look at a quality opponent.

As usual, Bills fans were left disappointed.

Sunday’s 16-10 loss did very little to answer the questions surrounding this year’s Bills. If anything, there are more questions about the team, particularly quarterback Josh Allen, going forward.

The defense appears for real after holding Tom Brady without a touchdown. The Patriots punched the ball into the end zone twice, once on a blocked punt and once on a Brandon Bolden run that capped a 50-yard drive following one of three Allen interceptions.

That’s a championship performance. Brady is old, Rob Gronkowski is gone, but the Patriots are still the class of the NFL, in large part because of Brady’s brilliance. The Bills defense under Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier has now held Brady to just three passing touchdowns and five interceptions in five games over 2 1/2 seasons, including an abysmal 18-of-39, 150-yard performance Sunday. It was the first time Brady won a game while finishing with a passer rating (45.9) of 48 or lower.

That has more to do with Allen than anything else. The Bills’ second-year signal-caller was brutal Sunday, throwing the three interceptions, taking four sacks and fumbling once in three quarters of play.

Bill Belichick, famous for his ability to confuse young quarterbacks, had a pretty clear game plan. First, he took away Allen’s initial reads, typically quick throws to Cole Beasley and John Brown. Then the Patriots made sure to keep Allen from his typical second option, scrambling. The New England rush kept Allen in the pocket, and he consistently moved from read to read before taking a sack or forcing a deep throw that ended up incomplete or intercepted.

The Bills found a way to move the ball in the second half, going nine plays and 75 yards for a scores out of the break. Allen looked worlds better, going 6 for 6 for 69 yards before diving in for a 1-yard rushing touchdown.

Allen didn’t exactly settle in. Three 3-and-outs — two from New England, one from the Bills — preceded his final full drive, when his third interception of the day led to a New England field goal that capped the scoring.

If Allen has been anything throughout his short career, it’s been clutch. Entering Sunday, he’d led five game-winning, fourth-quarter drives in just 12 career games, including two this season. He wouldn’t get the chance Sunday, thanks to a questionable hit that forced him into concussion protocol and out of the game.

Allen would’ve furthered his place in Bills lore with a winning drive against the Patriots. Matt Barkley, who performed much better overall than Allen in relief, couldn’t get it done. But it’s important to remember that the Bills wouldn’t have been in comeback position if not for Allen’s many mishaps.

Allen’s first half was as bad as I can remember. With a national audience checking out a battle of 3-0 teams, Allen looked exactly like the overmatched gunslinger much of the national media know him to be.

 Despite the Bills’ 3-1 record, Allen has been mostly that for much of this season. He’s thrown just three touchdowns and six interceptions in four games, and coughed up five fumbles to boot. In two years he has more fumbles and interceptions (31) than touchdowns (24) by a wide margin, and that total includes his 11 rushing touchdowns.

Allen is not a franchise quarterback through 16 career games. He’s more like Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky, who is on the verge of being run out of town despite posting a 12-4 record last season thanks in large part to an all-time defense.

The Bills should make the playoffs this season. Allen is good enough to ride a great defense and a soft schedule into the postseason. But wins and losses alone don’t effectively determine a quarterback’s worth, and Allen has a lot of work to do to prove he’s a franchise-level player.

Respond to sports editor Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler or via email at mike.meiler@gnnewspaper.com.

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