Josh Allen and so many other quarterbacks in this season's playoffs have proven once again that mental toughness remains the most important trait for an NFL signal-caller. A chip on the shoulder doesn't hurt, either.
By Jeffri Chadiha | Jan. 14, 2020
What started as three quarterbacks talking football at a corporate event at last year's Super Bowl ended with one of the most transformative experiences in the brief career of Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen. As soon as that SAP-sponsored seminar ended in Miami last February, he and his fellow panelists -- CBS analyst and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick -- found a nearby restaurant to grab dinner. They snacked on sumptuous appetizers, sipped on swanky cocktails and contemplated the finer points of being a signal-caller. It was as if two big brothers had shown up just to counsel a young guy still learning the game.
Allen listened intently as Romo and Fitzpatrick recounted valuable lessons from their own careers. They nodded in agreement when he brought up some of what he'd gone through in his first two NFL seasons.
"We talked about everything from mechanics to how to throw a football," Allen said during a recent interview. "I learned a lot in that two hours I spent with them and I appreciated it. I'm not perfect but I know what I'm doing now."
The irony of that late-night, impromptu meal was that it involved three men who know a few things about defying odds and proving people wrong. It didn't come up in conversation, but Allen understood both Romo and Fitzpatrick, two formerly undrafted players, could relate to the arduous path he's followed to stardom. Like Allen, they had to scratch and claw to earn the respect they ultimately achieved. That resilience is exactly why Allen has enjoyed a breakout season and has the Bills thinking Super Bowl for the first time in nearly three decades.
At 24 years old, Allen is prime evidence that the most important quality in evaluating whether a quarterback can lead a franchise is one that doesn't get enough attention: mental toughness. For all the discussions that revolve around tangible traits -- arm strength, accuracy and mobility being chief among those -- the best quarterbacks in today's game are usually the ones that have endured the most on their paths to glory.
"I've always had a chip on my shoulder, from not getting any offers out of high school to going to a junior college to get noticed. That's a badge I wear with honor." JOSH ALLEN
This year's playoff race is yet another example of that. Most of the teams that qualified -- and the vast majority that remain going into the Divisional Round -- had a starting signal-caller who had to fight through something noteworthy in his own career.
There's the story of Tampa Bay's Tom Brady, the six-time Super Bowl champion who waited until the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft to hear his name called by the New England Patriots. Seattle's Russell Wilson, at 5-foot-11, was deemed too short; Baltimore's Lamar Jackson was derided as too unconventional; and a trio of signal-callers were discarded by the teams that drafted them into the league (Washington's Alex Smith, Tennessee's Ryan Tannehill and New Orleans' Drew Brees, who entered the league a decade before Wilson with the same "not tall enough" label). Then there's Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Cleveland's Baker Mayfield, players who, like Allen, couldn't find a major football program to give them a college scholarship coming out of high school.
These men all possess an array of varying skills. The tie that binds them is will power.
"I think most (NFL teams), when they're looking for a quarterback, take the approach that they're just trying to find a good player," said one AFC personnel director. "But there's so much that players have to handle at that position. You need somebody who can deal with a lot. It's important to have all the other qualities, but you have to find a guy who can get through hard times."
|DIVISIONAL ROUND SCHEDULE|
|(6) L.A. Rams at (1) Green Bay||4:35 p.m. ET Saturday||FOX|
|(5) Tampa Bay at (2) New Orleans||6:40 p.m. ET Sunday||FOX|
|(5) Baltimore at (2) Buffalo||8:15 p.m. ET Saturday||NBC|
|(6) Cleveland at (1) Kansas City||3:05 p.m. ET Sunday||CBS|
Added Allen: "I definitely think mental toughness is way up there (when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks). Going through my own trials and tribulations, I know that stuff makes you hungry. I've always had a chip on my shoulder, from not getting any offers out of high school to going to a junior college to get noticed. That's a badge I wear with honor."
Allen, the seventh overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, has been everything Buffalo hoped he'd become. After leading the Bills to a wild-card spot in 2019, he helped them win the AFC East with a 13-3 record this season. His breakout campaign included career highs for passing yards (4,544), and touchdown passes (37) and a dramatic improvement in completion percentage (from 58.8 percent in 2019 to 69.2). Allen didn't disappoint in this year's Super Wild Card Round, either, as he led Buffalo to a 27-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.
He completed 26 of 35 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns and carried the ball 11 times for another 54 yards and a touchdown in the Bills' first playoff victory since 1995. His signature moment came late in the second half, when he nearly threw an interception and then followed that play with a 16-yard jaunt and a 5-yard scoring run that gave Buffalo a lead it never relinquished. He basically put his head down, furrowed his brow and willed his team into position to play from ahead.
"It's the playoffs," he said. "I'm trying to do whatever I can to help this team win football games."
That performance typified everything about Allen this year. When the Bills beat the Los Angeles Rams, 35-32, in Week 3, Buffalo held a 28-3 lead in the third quarter before the Rams rallied to go ahead by four points late in the fourth quarter. Allen walked into his team's huddle on the next drive after the Bills fell behind and didn't show an ounce of frustration. Scanning the eyes of every offensive player in front of him, he calmly said, "We're going to win this game," before driving Buffalo 75 yards and hitting tight end Tyler Kroft with the game-winning touchdown pass.