First, let’s all take a moment to appreciate that football has finally returned to Western New York following a long and eventful offseason. With the first preseason contest in the books, fans should be relatively happy with what they saw from the Buffalo Bills last night. Despite losing 28-23 to the Carolina Panthers, the first-stringers were pretty solid, heading into the locker room at halftime with a 17-7 lead.
As expected, the quarterback trio was under the microscope all evening long. To the delight of spectators, all three players acquitted themselves admirably or better. Now, before you go any further please keep in mind that we’re talking about a preseason game. Nobody won or lost the job based solely on what happened tonight. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive in.
Just before kickoff, it was announced that Nathan Peterman would start the game with the first team offense. Not only did he look the part of a first-stringer, but he was just short of sensational. Leading the team on a touchdown drive right out of the gate, the second-year signal-caller went 7/7 passing the ball including an absolute dime to Kelvin Benjamin along the sideline.
In fact, Peterman would hit his top receiving target four times, one of which resulted in the opening score of the game. He only threw one bad ball in ten attempts that would bounce off his receiver’s back shoulder for an easy interception. Aside from that one misplacement however, he was easily the best quarterback on the field Thursday evening.
McCarron would follow Peterman in the rotation following the interception on his second drive. Entering the game, he had a tough act to follow, but he proved up to the task going 7/10 for 116 yards, leading the team on two scoring drives (both resulting in a field goal). After an ugly start, the 27-year-old quickly adjusted to the Panthers’ pressure, releasing the ball more quickly and decisively.
Then came the moment everyone has been waiting for since the 2018 NFL Draft. At the start of the second half, Josh Allen made his long-awaited debut in a Bills uniform. Working with the third team offense, he performed as expected, treating the crowd to every facet of the “Josh Allen Experience.”
Most notably, fans were in awe of his effortless flick-of-the-wrist deep balls, one of which sailed beautifully through the hands of Robert Foster for what would have been a sure touchdown. Of course there were moments of spotty accuracy as the Wyoming product went 9/19 on the evening.
Allen’s late touchdown pass was a 14-yard laser that had the touch and accuracy of an NFL veteran. There is still quite a bit of work to do and given Peterman and McCarron’s respective performances, Allen is still probably the third-string quarterback for now, but if he can clean up some of his mistakes, he could see first-team reps before the preseason is over.
Despite an underwhelming stat line, he fared admirably behind a shaky assortment of backup offensive linemen (sound familiar?). There is no question about his elite physical gifts including an absolute rocket of an arm. If he can improve on his ability to read the field and hit the short-to-medium range routes in stride, he could prove a lot of doubters (myself included) wrong.
Moving away from the quarterback battle, one of the most pleasant surprises of the night was the solid play of the Bills’ first-team offensive line. As a unit that has come under quite a bit of fire for being one of the weakest in the league, they certainly proved worthy against the Carolina attack.
One player who stood out as particularly dominant was Ryan Groy. Last offseason, the Bills matched the then St. Louis Rams offer sheet to the unrestricted free-agent on a two-year deal worth $5 million. Money well spent, it seems.
Perhaps the most notable offensive standout was reserve running back, Marcus Murphy. The four-year veteran rushed seven times for 35 yards while totaling 65 all-purpose yards. If the third-string halfback slot was up for grabs, he certainly moved himself into the conversation. While Travaris Cadet and Chris Ivory may have more special teams experience, Murphy proved to be the most effective runner yesterday.
Moving on to the defense, the first-team unit was satisfactory given the absence of Kyle Williams and new addition, Trent Murphy in the trenches. As a rotational player throughout the contest, rookie Harrison “Horrible Harry” Philips stood out registering the team’s only sack of the night.
Though the second and third units left something to be desired, the starting defense looked promising, holding the Panthers to just seven points in the first half. It will be interesting to if they can stay relatively healthy throughout the season. While talented, they aren’t a particularly deep unit, especially at linebacker and cornerback.
Let’s face it, everything is watered-down in the preseason so it’s tough to get a really good gauge on just how good the defense really is against a very simple and experimental offensive system. The real test will come during week one when they’ve actually prepared for a game and established a fully-functional gameplan.
Overall, fans should be cautiously encouraged by what they saw last night. The offense actually ran screen plays, something we haven’t seen attempted since the Chan Gailey era, and the quarterbacks even threw balls to their receivers (#Byerod).
If nothing else, the team should be at least entertaining to watch this year regardless of who lines up under center. Even with a simplified gameplan in a preseason game, Brian Daboll’s offensive system looks to be a breath of fresh air following a frustratingly predictable year with Rick Dennison at the helm.
At the end of the day, the quarterback competition will continue to take center stage. The battle is far from over, but all three players showed that they belong in the conversation, at least for now. Stay tuned!
Editor’s babble: I was fortunate enough to be sitting in the end zone with @celestealbone for the game. The touchdown pass Josh Allen made at the end of the game to Ray Ray McCloud was nothing short of spectacular. At first it looked like a certain interception and when the ball whizzed in through a donut hole in between two Carolina defenders, we were both shocked. It was a thing of beauty very few quarterbacks could make. The future is bright no matter who starts at QB. Thanks so much to Anthony Sciandra for his terrific contributions to our blog. You can find Anthony on Twitter @SciandraSports.