Seizing the Moment: Sean McDermott and Josh Allen’s Golden Opportunity to Overcome Patrick Mahomes Once and for All

Image for article titled Sean McDermott and Josh Allen need to finally finish off Patrick Mahomes while they have the chance

The Buffalo Bills are the greatest what-if franchise in NFL history. They’ve repeatedly brushed up against greatness without it rubbing off on them. Next month, Buffalo is approaching the 30th anniversary of Marv Levy’s K-Gun Bills’ fourth Super Bowl loss.

Losing four Super Bowls without earning a ring is only the tip of the iceberg. Patrick Mahomes has emerged as Buffalo’s new foil. The McDermott-Allen Bills have been in this position before. Coming so close that they can practically see over the summit.

Nobody is under more pressure leading up to the divisional round than Josh Allen and Sean McDermott. Lamar Jackson is still searching for his first divisional-round victory, but a contest against the Houston Texans isn’t as daunting as the Kansas City Chiefs. Besides, Jackson is firmly entrenched as the Baltimore Ravens quarterback after receiving a gold-plated contract extension, and John Harbaugh is untouchable.

On Wednesday, Josh Allen with MLK Day metaphors clearly still on his mind said, “They’ve been at the top of the mountain, they know what it takes to get there.”

Added Allen, “We’ve yet to do that. As a competitor, as a player, to be in a situation like this is something that you dream about.”

Allen is on the verge of reliving Jim Kelly’s nightmare against the triplets. Except his dark spirit is Mahomes. The Chiefs quarterback has repeatedly terrorized the Bills and will hover over Allen’s career epitaph if he doesn’t defeat Mahomes in a postseason when he’s most vulnerable, and advance to the Super Bowl.

The line to beat Mahomes is getting longer by the day. If Allen doesn’t get over the hump this year, he’s heading for a tough spell. CJ Stroud is rising quickly in Houston, Trevor Lawrence has some skin in the game, Joe Burrow will be returning to Cincy and Kansas City won’t allow Mahomes to throw at tomato cans for another season.

Allen might have some Carson Wentz in him when the weather is warm, but in sub-zero temps, he’s Brett Favre. But at least Favre got one title out of his era. After a rocky start to the season, Allen has reshaped the discourse surrounding him. The temperamental Stefon Diggs has cooled off. James Cook has emerged as a workhorse who can lift some of the load from Allen’s back. Advancing past the regular-season finale and the wild-card round should be givens, though. The Bills cannot allow Mahomes to march into their igloo with a win. Anything less than a victory over a wounded Chiefs squad is tantamount to a dereliction of duty.

McDermott on the other hand, has a bit more rehabilitation to do. Not only did a report from Tyler Dunne depict him as a bumbling nincompoop with bizarre, but benign motivational speaking tactics, he will also receive the bulk of the blame if he falls short against Andy Reid again.

Short-term memory has allowed McDermott and the Bills’ front office to memory hole the first half of this season. Any other organization would be holding his feet to the fire. However, in early December, sources told The Athletic that there was a “zero percent chance” Terry Pegula would fire McDermott. Buffalo is strapping themselves to a coach who was one win away from missing the postseason entirely. In the last month of the season, Buffalo walked a tightrope with so much aplomb they avoided missing out on the postseason and instead earned the AFC’s No. 2 seed.

McDermott assumed control over play calling in the offseason. Prior to accepting the Bills job, McDermott was known for his aggressive blitzing schemes as the Carolina Panthers’ defensive architect. As the backstop for a Cam Newton-directed offense en route to Super Bowl 50, Buffalo scooped him up. However, he hasn’t replicated the ferocity of his 2015 defense yet.

This season, McDermott has turned the pressure dial up on Frazier’s tepid pressure defense, but not by much. The Bills blitz rate is league-average, but their pressure rate and sack rate are among the top five. Opening the valve has gotten McDermott in trouble before. McDermott’s cover-0 blitz of Russell Wilson on 3rd and 10 in a Week 10 loss to the Broncos was heavily criticized, but since then, the Bills have been one of the league’s hottest teams. As inconsistent as Allen has been, their defense has allowed the second fewest touchdowns in the league all season.

In high-pressure situations, Mahomes is one of the NFL”s best, so you won’t see him trying to hurry Kansas City’s pocket Houdini into a bad decision. The opposite is true of Allen, who can be beguiled into turnovers.

And yet, as stacked as these Bills are, McDermott and Co. cannot afford to muck this up. The frustration is mounting within their fan base even if they refuse to acknowledge it. There’s no chance the Bills navigate a new course if they lose, but a win over their toughest hurdle would be legacy-definition. The top-seed in the AFC, Baltimore isn’t a gimme, but they’ve never climbed the postseason mountain either.

Buffalo’s window is wide open now and as we’ve seen from the deterioration of Kansas City’s supporting cast, there’s no telling what tomorrow or next season will bring.

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