ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Whatever bad memories Bills quarterback Josh Allen had of his first and only game NFL game at Houston have been pushed aside some 14 months later.
There's no need to remind the second-year player of leaving the game in the third quarter with a sprained throwing elbow that eventually led to him missing five weeks. And Allen doesn't need to hear of the telltale rookie awkwardness he displayed after being thrust into a starting role ahead of schedule as a result of Nathan Peterman's turnover-prone issues.
However raw Buffalo's first-round draft pick looked in the weeks leading up to a 20-13 loss to the Texans on Oct. 14, 2018, Allen believes he's made considerable strides in preparing to make his playoff debut in an AFC wild-card game at Houston on Saturday.
"Obviously, going through that game there's not great memories. Nobody likes getting hurt," he said following practice Tuesday.
"I feel like a different player from last year ... just as far as seeing things, seeing defenses, trusting the guys around me and not trying to make the big play all the time."
Allen's progress has been apparent during a season in which he's posted five fourth-quarter comebacks and helped Buffalo (10-6) to its best finish in 20 years. He's doubled his touchdown passing total to 20; his completion percentage has jumped by 6 points to 58.6; and his 3,089 yards passing are the most by a Bills player since Ryan Fitzpatrick had 3,400 in 2012.
Having shown a flare for performing in national settings by beating the Cowboys at Dallas on Thanksgiving and the Steelers in Pittsburgh in prime-time, Allen can appreciate how the playoffs represent the next step in his development.
"It's a new game. It's a different situation," he said. “All the marbles are on the table.”
No pressure, said Allen, who can become Buffalo's first quarterback to win a playoff game since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly oversaw a 37-22 wild-card victory over Miami on Dec. 30, 1995.
"I don't have to be the best quarterback out there," Allen said. "I have to be the best quarterback for this team to help us win a football game regardless of the circumstances."
Allen's comments echo what his coaches have emphasized on maintaining an even keel.
"The juices get flowing, it's a competitive time of year and you've got to do a good job of trying to stay as level-headed as you can," offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. “You want to win it so bad, but you've got to stay consistent with your routine and the things you've done all throughout the year.”
If there's a concern, it's Allen acknowledging he's experienced early game jitters, most recently following a 24-17 loss at New England two weeks ago. It was a game in which he went 6 of 13 for 62 yards and a touchdown in the first half, before finishing 13 of 26 for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
Slow starts have been an issue this season.
Buffalo's game-opening drives have produced just one touchdown and four field goals. And the Bills have combined to score just 12 points in the first quarter of their past eight games, and 43 overall.
"That's on my shoulders. We've got to go and start faster," Allen said.
As for the jitters?
"Just got to ride it," he said. "It's OK to be hyped at times. It means that you care."
Backup Matt Barkley credited Allen for showing growth and maturity. Barkley noted how Allen is no longer scrambling out of the pocket at the first sign of pressure, and has cut down on trying to force plays which lead to negative gains or turnovers.
That's different to the player Barkley saw when he first arrived in Buffalo two weeks after Allen was hurt against the Texans.
"I do think there was a drastic change from the first half of the season and when he came back," he added.
Allen was hurt while being struck from both sides by Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney. Mercilus hit the quarterback's arm just after he released the ball for a 39-yard completion to Kelvin Benjamin.
Difficult as it was to miss five weeks, Allen credited the time off as providing him perspective and time off to watch and learn.
"It was a blessing in disguise," he said, before looking forward to his second trip to Houston.
“Having that experience of playing there, seeing a familiar stadium, that's some experience we can take into that game,” Allen said, while noting there's much more on the line this time. “We want to win. We don't want to go home.”
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