They came into the NFL at the same time, giving hope to their respective franchises that they’d found the answer at quarterback after years of searching. Sam Darnold went to the Jets with the third overall choice, while Josh Allen was selected seventh by the Bills, and thus was born an AFC East rivalry that might last a dozen years.
Or so they hope.
The two quarterbacks meet again in Sunday’s opener in Buffalo, albeit under far different circumstances compared to when they first came into the league in 2018. While Darnold is already on his second coach and second general manager, who is in the midst of a massive rebuilding project, Allen has had the luxury of playing for one coach and having one GM build the team.
The difference is incalculable.
Allen is on a team that I believe is eminently capable of dethroning the Patriots now that Tom Brady is gone after 20 seasons. Allen showed marked improvement last year, helping Buffalo to the playoffs as an AFC wild-card team. The Bills have only gotten better since then, trading for Vikings star receiver Stefon Diggs and continuing the roster construction under head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane in a very orderly, impactful fashion.
Darnold? He’s dealing with a team-wide overhaul by GM Joe Douglas that has him playing behind virtually a brand-new offensive line and his receiving corps is incomplete at best. His most reliable target is Jamison Crowder, one of the NFL’s top slot receivers, but beyond that, there are plenty of questions. Breshad Perriman has first-round talent, but has dealt with injuries his entire career. Second-round rookie Denzel Mims has battled hamstring problems all summer and will miss the season opener. Chris Hogan has two Super Bowl rings with the Patriots, but he’s a journeyman the Jets signed last month.
Le’Veon Bell once was the NFL’s most vibrant running back, but he was lost in Adam Gase’s system last year and may very well have lost a step. Frank Gore is a terrific veteran presence but will only play a backup role. Rookie La’Mical Perine looks solid, but he’s battling ankle issues and won’t play Sunday. About the only position that looks solid and deep is tight end, where Chris Herndon and Ryan Griffin lead the way.
The differences on defense are stark, too. The Jets are still without a legitimate pass rusher and they’re thin at corner. Their best safety, Jamal Adams, was traded to the Seahawks, and his likely fill-in, Marcus Maye, has calf and ankle issues.
Buffalo is in much better shape on defense, with Jerry Hughes a reliable pass rusher and Tre’Davious White one of the league’s premier cornerbacks. Former first-round picks Ed Oliver and Tremaine Edmunds are developing into mainstays of the Bills’ front seven.
Darnold refuses to second guess any of the moves going on around him, playing the good soldier as the roster re-tooling continues. And McDermott believes there is plenty of room to grow from a quarterback he scouted closely the year the Bills took Allen.
“I have a lot of respect for Sam and his work and who he is,” McDermott said. “He's mobile, he does a good job in the pocket [and] he does a good job getting them in and out of checks at the line of scrimmage based on the looks he's presented with. So, he looks like a young quarterback with a lot of upside.”
Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has gotten the better of Allen, who is 1-1 with a touchdown and two interceptions against Williams' defenses.
“They have a tremendous coaching staff that do a great job, very aggressive,” McDermott said. “They try to give you different looks and move people around. They do a really good job inside out, playing physical. They do present a challenge.”
Williams may be hard-pressed to contain Allen much longer, though. With an improved cast of players around him, this could be another meaningful year for the Bills’ third-year quarterback. And another year that Darnold can only look on with envy as he deals with a team that is still a long way from playoff contention.
Dak offers a lesson for all
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott should be applauded for opening up about his depression in the aftermath of his brother’s suicide in April. After finding out that Jace Prescott took his own life, Dak confided to television host Graham Bensinger that he went through a painful time in coming to grips with the situation.
“I mean, obviously tears and tears and tears,” Prescott told Bensinger. “All throughout this quarantine and this offseason, I started experiencing emotions I’ve never felt before. Anxiety for the main one. And a couple of days before my brother passed, I would say I started experiencing depression. To the point of, I didn’t want to work out anymore.”
Prescott told reporters this week that he needed to be open about his emotions, especially because of the unique position he holds with the team.
“I think being a leader is about being genuine and being real,” he said. “If I wouldn’t have talked about those things to the people I did, I wouldn’t realize that I, my friends and a lot more people go through them. I’ve got to make sure my mind’s in the right place … to lead people to where they want to be. I think it’s important to be vulnerable, to be genuine, to be transparent. I think that goes a long way when you’re a leader and when your voice is being heard by so many, and you can inspire. Emotions can overcome you if you don’t do something about it. It’s huge to get help and it saves lives.”
Good on Prescott for baring his soul, no matter how difficult that process has been in mourning his brother’s loss. It’s a wonderful example of a man helping others by sharing his story and letting people know that you can – and should – get help when you need it.
“I think it’s another great example of what a tremendous leader he is and the qualities he has that he’s able to express that in today’s world,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said.