Chargers Bills Preview FootballFILE - In this Nov. 1, 2020, file photo, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Orchard Park, N.Y. Allen and the AFC East-leading Bills prepare to host the rookie Justin Herbert-led Chargers on Sunday in a showdown of the NFL’s two leaders in yards passing. (AP Photo/John Munson, File)
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — As much as he’d like, Josh Allen can’t change the past when the topic of the Bills quarterback’s first career start was mentioned this week.
“Obviously, very nervous, and things didn’t turn out so great,” Allen said, when asked to recall any lingering memories of Buffalo's 31-20 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers two weeks into the 2018 season.
“I should’ve, could’ve done a better job if I could go back and do it all over now,” he added. “But it did teach me some valuable lessons. ... It helped me. It really did, and I think you need to go through some of the bumps and bruises.”
In finishing 18 of 33 for 245 yards with a touchdown in the final minute, and two interceptions, Allen’s outing was typically reflective of a raw rookie thrust into action after Nathan Peterman unraveled in Buffalo’s season opener.
The signs of growth have become undeniably apparent some 2 1/2 years later as Allen and the AFC East-leading Bills (7-3) prepare to host the Chargers (3-7) on Sunday.
In playing a key role in Buffalo winning at least seven of its first 10 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1995 and ’96, Allen has shed many of his erratic tendencies to be considered one of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks.
His 2,871 yards passing rank eighth in the NFL, his 68.4 completion percentage stands ninth, as does his 103.2 passer rating in a season he has thrown 21 touchdowns — one more than last year — versus seven interceptions.
It helps that Buffalo spent the past two offseasons upgrading the talent around Allen, including this year’s addition of Stefon Diggs to fill out an established group of receivers featuring Cole Beasley and John Brown.
And yet, coach Sean McDermott said Allen deserves credit for his ability to learn from his mistakes.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn has seen a difference.
“He’s grown tremendously,” Lynn said.
“It’s what you would expect from a young quarterback of his skillset and football IQ,” he added. “These guys don’t come into the league hall of famers. They get developed, and they get better every single year. This year, he’s looking like the league MVP to me.”
The Chargers, for all their flaws in blowing second-half leads, have the makings of a young, promising star of their own in Justin Herbert.
The first-round pick out of Oregon ranks 10th with 2,699 yards passing, and has already topped 300 yards five times, one short of matching the NFL rookie record in just nine starts. With 22 touchdown passes, he’s three short of becoming the NFL’s fourth rookie to reach 25. And he’s 301 yards passing from joining Patrick Mahomes in becoming just the NFL’s second player to reach 3,000 in his first 10 career starts.
What encourages Lynn is how much room Herbert still has to develop after being forced to start after Tyrod Taylor was sidelined with a rib injury in Week 1.
“There’s a lot he doesn’t know, and we’re still putting more on his plate every single week,” Lynn said. “I love the way he’s handling that, especially under the circumstances.”
WHAT THE EK?
The Chargers could get a big jolt to their running game if Austin Ekeler can return to action.
The running back led the AFC in scrimmage yards after three games before suffering a hamstring injury in Week 4 at Tampa Bay. In the six-plus games since, the running game has been inconsistent with Justin Jackson, Troymaine Pope and Kalen Ballage taking the lead at various points. Ballage has been the top back recently, topping 70 yards from scrimmage in each of the past three games.
ON THE RECEIVING END
Chargers receiver Keenan Allen leads the league with 81 receptions, which is eight ahead of Diggs, who is second.
Allen has five games with nine or more receptions, including last week against the Jets when he set a team record with 16. With 605 catches, he needs 18 in the next four games to pass Antonio Brown’s mark for most through a player's first 100 games.
The Bills had their bye week to get over the disappointment of a 32-30 loss at Arizona, which Kyler Murray sealed with a 43-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins with 2 seconds remaining.
“It’s got to be behind us,” McDermott said. “One pass is not going to define our season. One pass, in particular that type of pass, is not indicative of who we are as a team.”
TALE OF TWO HALVES
The Chargers defense has allowed a league-low average of 134.3 yards offense in the first half. The second half is another story. The 209.7 yards allowed average after halftime is fourth worst.
The second-half collapses are why the Chargers have lost four games after having double-digit leads. They had an 18-point lead in a 34-28 win over the Jets last week. New York pulled within one score late in the fourth quarter and drove into Chargers territory before Gus Bradley’s unit finally held.
The Bills have lost four straight to the Chargers, and haven't led at any point since a 23-14 win on Oct. 19, 2008.
AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy contributed to this report.
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