The Associated Press released its annual NFL All-Pro Team on Friday, and while some will quibble with it here and there, the writers generally got it right.
This makes sense. All three are marvelous quarterbacks, but Rodgers boasts the best numbers in the league. It’s a testament to the faith Packers coach Matt LaFleur inspired in his grizzled quarterback and the spark the team (wittingly or unwittingly) lit underneath Rodgers by drafting his eventual replacement, Jordan Love, in the first round last year.
The All-Pro second-team split between Mahomes and Allen is particularly interesting. While Mahomes has been in the MVP conversation all along, it says a ton that the writers thought enough of Allen to place him in that same tier, even though he has seemingly generated less MVP buzz than Mahomes, Rodgers or even Russell Wilson (at least earlier in the season).
It’s time to rectify that, at least in my little corner of the web. And it’s for that reason that Allen, the 24-year-old with a dazzling combination of athleticism, arm strength and moxie, is my Low Key MVP for the 2020 season.
Josh Allen deserves a special type of MVP award
This is different from the MVP, mind you. Rodgers will be the rightful winner of 2020. However, The Low Key MVP is the guy who has a great case and would win it practically any other year but isn’t generating the same buzz because another guy had an otherworldly season.
Think J.J. Watt in 2014, when he racked up a jaw-dropping season by a defensive player but was beat out by Rodgers’ outrageous 38-5 touchdown/interception ratio and 112.2 passer rating.
Think Randall Cunningham in 1990, who posted a 3,466-30-91.6 passer line and rushed for 942 yards — IN THE ERA BEFORE THE DUAL-THREAT QUARTERBACK WAS ACCEPTABLE — and lost to Joe Montana, who killed it for the 14-2 49ers.
Think Jerry Rice in 1987. He had 22 touchdowns catches in 12 games, an output that produced more scores than all but five quarterbacks threw that year — but Rice lost to John Elway, who carried Denver to a Super Bowl.
You get my drift.
So while there has been no shortage of deserved “Rodgers is the MVP stories,” there’s no better time than the present to take a moment and appreciate what The Low Key MVP did this season, especially with the Bills set to host the Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card round on Saturday afternoon.
How about we start here: While it’s generally accepted that Allen had an amazing season, it’s important to remember it wasn’t that long ago when people snickered at the mention of his name. Due to the lack of “wow” moments at Wyoming and the general rawness of his game, Allen was regarded as a “boom-or-bust” first-round draft pick in 2018. There was concern that he would never refine his accuracy enough or win in the pocket enough to be an All-Pro, despite his immense physical gifts.
Yet, if you looked closely at Allen’s rookie year, there were signs of promise. It just so happens that I tend to watch football closely because I’m an immense dork, and that’s when I wrote that “I kinda like Allen now” due to his creativity and physicality, though his slow eyes and accuracy were problematic.
I immediately got why general manager Brandon Beane and the Bills’ brass fell for him after sitting down with Allen during a 30-minute interview in the summer of 2019. This was a guy who loved football, spoke passionately about Buffalo and mentioned wanting to bring back the glory of the Jim Kelly days. And when I spoke to teammates about him, I could tell they really liked him, too.
That’s all I needed to see to join the Josh Allen train, and he continued to make more believers in the months after that as he led the Bills to a 10-6 record in 2019 by tossing 20 touchdowns, rushed for nine more and threw only nine interceptions.
Allen’s playoff failure a driving force for AFC East title season
Yet, his uneven performance in the Bills’ playoff game — a 22-19 overtime loss to Houston in which he lost a fumble, barely completed half his passes and seemed out of control — reinforced collective doubts about him, and raised questions about his ability to play with poise when the stage was brightest.
He is his own toughest critic. And when I spoke to him last September about that playoff loss, the disappointment in his voice about his outing was evident, but the confidence in himself was too.
“It’s no secret that I should have, could have, would have played better in that game,” Allen told me. “But I definitely think it’s something that needed to happen to myself. I think I’ve learned a lot from it, I’ve grown from it as a player, as a person and, you know, give me some more motivation for this year. It drives me every day, knowing that I can play better.
“And again, I’m not going to make the same mistakes twice.”
Cue Allen’s 2020 breakout season, where he has quieted doubters. There are no more snickers when people bring up his name. Now, there’s respect for a quarterback who did one of the hardest things in the NFL, which is improve his accuracy and learn how to comfortably operate in the pocket.
In a single year, Allen raised his completion percentage from 58.8 to 69.1, and nearly doubled his touchdown passes (from 20 to 37) while throwing roughly the same amount of picks (10). In addition, he led the Bills to their best record since 1991 (13-3) and their first AFC East crown since 1995.
The addition of Stefon Diggs, a 2020 first-team All-Pro selection, has helped (as Allen predicted in September), and so has the tremendous play-calling of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, a 2021 head coach candidate. Still, Allen’s improved poise and playmaking knack is the primary reason why Buffalo has reached heights it hasn’t seen in nearly three decades.
As far as Low Key MVP cases go, well, that’s pretty darned strong, and I hope that’s not forgotten in the history books. But I fear it will, especially if Buffalo doesn’t take care of business Saturday against a tough, well-coached Indianapolis team that features the type of zone-heavy coverages that stifled a younger Allen, who was always looking for the big play. And, hey, maybe he still will struggle. It’s the playoffs, and anything can happen.
If that were to happen, it would represent a frustrating regression for a player who, all season long, has done a far better job being patient. Learning the balance of how to do this is one of the final steps for quarterbacks of his ilk, the Favres of the world who need to be tamped down aggression-wise. No matter what happens Saturday, the future is bright for Allen and the Bills.
If Allen is trending in the direction he appears to be as an All-Pro, deserving to be in the Mt. Rushmore of NFL Quarterbacks Argument with Rodgers, Mahomes and Wilson, this is one more test he should pass on the way to winning the real MVP, a day that could come soon.
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