Jonathan Allen thinks coming back from a deficit to win each of their first two games will help the Washington Commanders moving forward. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle knows rallying from behind every week isn’t sustainable.
Back on track following a thrashing of the Las Vegas Raiders, Buffalo charges into a Week 3 matchup Sunday at Washington, which is 2-0 for the first time in more than a decade. The game is a measuring stick for the Commanders and another chance for the Bills to show they’re on the way to becoming a Super Bowl contender.
“Pretty big,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “This is one of the elite teams coming in and we’ve got to gear up, we’ve got to practice, prepare, get ourselves ready to go and give us a great opportunity to see where we stand.”
The Bills stand at 1-1, trying to put their turnover-heavy season-opening defeat at the New York Jets far in the rearview mirror. After throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble in that game, Allen was 31 of 37 for 274 yards passing and three touchdowns against Las Vegas.
Allen called it smart football.
“Staying within the system, not trying to do anything too crazy,” said Allen, who’s set to play his first game at FedEx Field. “Just making sure we’re being smart and methodical with what we’re doing … and win football games.”
The Commanders have won each of their first two games, beating Arizona after falling behind 13-7 and then coming back from a 21-3 deficit to upset Denver on the road. Jonathan Allen, part of a dominant defensive line that has nine of Washington’s 10 sacks thus far, said after each game it wasn’t one fans would have expected the team to win in the past.
Maybe the competition hasn’t been fierce, but the vibes are far more positive this year.
“It definitely feels really good in here to be 2-0,” top receiver Terry McLaurin said. “You still don’t want to look too far ahead. We’ve got a really good Bills team coming in, and we’re looking forward to that challenge.”
McLaurin acknowledged “ a lot of room to improve,” and Bills coach Sean McDermott feels the same way about his team. Going into his 100th NFL game — and facing Rivera, for whom he served as defensive coordinator for six years with Carolina — he sees the win against the Raiders as “a step in the right direction” in building a strong identity.
“Physical at the line of scrimmage, complementing both run and the pass game, taking the ball away on defense,” McDermott said. “It’s some of what we want to become. We’re not there yet.”
McDermott credited the media for providing his defensive front incentive to get off to a strong start. Buffalo has allowed 529 yards, fifth-best in the league, and 26 first downs, which is the second-fewest total.
That’s an improvement after the unit was criticized for sagging after edge rusher Von Miller was sidelined by a season-ending right leg injury in November.
“I think they heard a lot about how they didn’t do X, Y and Z from you guys at the end of last season, so you can keep talking,” McDermott said. “You guys keep talking about that, and maybe that’ll motivate them even more. We’ll see.”
Miller is on the physically unable to perform list, which requires him to miss at least the first four games of this season.
Second-year Commanders QB Sam Howell is set to make his fourth pro start. His third went better than his second.
Much like Allen, Howell bounced back from turnovers in the opener to play a clean Week 2. He had two touchdown passes against the Broncos, and the praise he’s now earning from the Bills sounds a lot like what teammates have been espousing for months.
“He seems like he’s playing pretty confident,” Buffalo safety Jordan Poyer said. “He’s got really good arm strength, he can move around in the pocket, he can make plays with his legs sometimes. He’s going to throw the football, and he trusts his playmakers to go up and make plays.”
Howell did that with McLaurin last week, connecting on a 30-yard TD pass by throwing the ball through a tight window with defenders all around. McLaurin said that builds trust and could lead to offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy dialing up similar plays in the future as Howell gains experience.
“He’s not afraid to fit it in some tight space,” McLaurin said. “He’s seeing things quicker. He’s getting the ball out of his hands. I know he’s still going to continue to improve on that, but when we get certain looks he knows exactly where he’s going with the ball.”
Allen downplayed winning his 11th AFC offensive player of the week award as something that typically goes to a player on a team that won. His completion percentage of 83.78 against the Raiders was the second best of his six year career.
It made no difference to him that his 11 weekly honors are one more than Hall of Fame Bills quarterback Jim Kelly.
“It doesn’t mean all that much,” Allen said. “They don’t give those awards to guys who are losing football games.”
Allen then joked in wondering where his checks are from winning the award — even though there are no cash bonuses coming from the NFL — by saying: “I don’t know if they got my address wrong or what.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Orchard Park, New York, contributed.
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