- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2021

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Thirteen miles from Highmark Stadium, there’s a neighborhood in downtown Buffalo called Allentown. Or, as the banner hanging in the middle of the street indicates, there has been a slight change. It now reads: “Welcome To Josh Allentown.” The pizzeria on the corner? “Josh Allentown Pizza,” the restaurant’s sign shows.

The puns are a reflection of the excitement generated by the emergence of Josh Allen — the Buffalo Bills quarterback who has become the face of a franchise desperately in need of one. Not since the days of Jim Kelly have the Bills had a passer like this: an MVP-level play-caller capable of winning games with his arm and his legs. 

Allen is the type of player that Washington, another franchise with near-constant quarterback woes, has been trying to find for roughly the last 30 years. And on Sunday — in a one-sided 43-21 defeat — the Burgundy and Gold witnessed firsthand just how special someone like Allen could be. The 2018 first-rounder threw for 358 yards and four touchdowns while completing 74% of his passes. 

And for good measure, he ran in the final score, too. 

But what was most jarring about Sunday wasn’t just that Washington’s starter, Taylor Heinicke (212 yards for two passing touchdown, a rushing touchdown and two picks), underperformed and struggled following his Week 2 heroics over the New York Giants.

The show put on by Heinicke’s counterpart, Allen, is a flashing red warning sign of trouble ahead for Washington this season: The defense, after beating up on mostly backups a year ago, is getting carved up by the league’s better quarterbacks this season. 

Not every quarterback Washington faces in 2021 creates the excitement that Allen does. Still, there are plenty of other good quarterbacks on the team’s schedule — starting next week with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, a former MVP. Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson also remain in the pipeline. 

Over three games, Washington has faced two great young quarterbacks in Justin Herbert and Allen — and was dissected by both. The other — New York’s Daniel Jones — may not be a superstar, but he had an above-average game, as well. 

Ben DiNucci, they are not. 

“That’s one of the things I’m concerned with: We got to mature together, we got to become a team together, got to play as a unit and play as positions,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “The defensive line has to work together. The unit, pass rush and coverage got to work together, stuff like that. 

“Those are the types of things when you got young guys out there, new guys out there together. That’s something we have to continue to work on.”

Rivera called the Bills’ game a “measuring stick” for Washington leading up to the matchup, telling reporters he was curious to see how his group would fare against a team that reached the AFC Championship game. Washington, after all, is a team hoping to chart a similar trajectory as the Bills, a team now considered to be among the league’s best.

Instead, Rivera repeatedly used the word “disappointed” after Sunday’s loss. Disappointed the defensive line couldn’t generate pressure on Allen and went without a sack. Disappointed at the penalties and turnovers that put Washington in bad situations. Disappointed that his players don’t seem to be correcting their mistakes on a week-to-week basis.

Sunday’s game fell apart for Washington quickly. A third-and-15 conversion on Buffalo’s opening drive paved the way for a 28-yard touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders from Allen. A  Logan Thomas fumble and a Heinicke interception led to Allen’s second and third touchdowns. All well before halfway through the second quarter.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Heinicke said. 

“The defense, we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror,” defensive end Chase Young said. 

For a brief moment, there was a sequence when it did seem like Washington could dig itself out of the deep hole. Running back Antonio Gibson zigged and zagged his way through defenders on a screen pass for a 73-yard touchdown. Then, after a wild play that resulted in Dustin Hopkins recovering his own kick at the 18-yard line, Heinicke dove headfirst across the pylon to narrow the gap to 21-14.

But the comeback hopes were shut down quickly because ultimately, the defense couldn’t stop Allen. The Bills’ offense tacked on two field goals heading into halftime and then in the second half, Allen put the game out of reach with a lengthy 17-play, 93-yard drive that lasted over eight minutes.

As the game cut to commercial on television after the score, Young was shown barking on the sideline with defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio nodding. Afterward, Young, who does not have a sack this year, said he told the coach that when the team comes back for practice next week, there better not be any messing around.

“If someone (slacks off), let me know because I ain’t having that,” Young said. 

Young did not indicate if that had been a problem for the defense thus far. But what’s clear for Washington’s defense is the unit has had practically no answers against better quarterback play through three games. 

As a team, the Bills totaled 481 yards and were 9-of-15 on third down. 

“I promise you, we’ll put the tape on and we’ll see some mistakes and we’ll sit there and say, ‘Man, we did that last week. We’re not learning,’” Rivera said. “We got to make sure we’re learning. 

“And that’s what my fear is, when I got a chance to watch that tape is I’m going to feel like we didn’t learn anything in the first two weeks.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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