Josh Allen last played in Las Vegas in 2016, when he was an unpolished sophomore quarterback at Wyoming and a relatively anonymous professional prospect.
He returned Sunday with a distinctively different kind of swagger.
This time, he’s a third-year quarterback for the Buffalo Bills and the face of an emerging franchise.
This time, he’s one the best quarterbacks in the NFL through the first four weeks of the 2020 season.
Allen, 24, continued his MVP-caliber campaign against the Raiders with 288 passing yards, two touchdowns and an additional rushing score in the Bills’ 30-23 win.
The third-year quarterback has passed and rushed for touchdowns in 13 games since he was drafted in 2018 out of Wyoming. The Bills are 13-0 in such instances.
“He loves to win. He’s a competitor,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said, explaining that he challenged Allen in training camp to learn how to defeat complex defensive coverages. “He puts his heart, his soul, his body into everything in this game.”
Allen visited Las Vegas with the Cowboys on Nov. 12, 2016, for a game against UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium. He completed 14 of 31 passes for 334 yards, four TDs and two interceptions, but Wyoming fell 69-66 in triple overtime.
He emerged, though, during the following season as a premier pro prospect. As the No. 7 overall pick in 2018, he was tasked with turning around a woeful Bills franchise that had earned only one playoff berth since 1999.
From rookie to sophomore to bonafide franchise quarterback, that’s the path he’s traveled.
“We’re fairly confident in what we’ve got going on here,” Allen said after Sunday’s win before giving credit to his teammates. “It takes 10 other guys executing on every single play to have success.”
Allen struggled with his accuracy during his first two seasons, completing 52.8 percent of his passes as a rookie and 58.8 in his second year. But he’s accurate and poised this season. He was precise with his throws and decisions against the Raiders.
He completed 24 of 34 passes, many to uncovered receivers roaming free against a porous Raiders secondary. He threw TD passes in the first half to Gabriel Davis and Cole Beasley. He added his 1-yard rushing score after completing a 49-yard pass to Stefon Diggs, who caught six passes for 115 yards.
“It’s awesome, the guys that we have here,” Allen said. “Things are rolling right now, and we understand throughout the year we’re probably going to hit adversity at one point or another … but we truly love each other in Buffalo, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.”
Allen this season is completing 70.9 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,326 yards and 12 touchdowns against one interception. He’s among the best running quarterbacks in the league, too, but needed not use his legs Sunday — carrying only three times for minus-1 yard, including a kneel-down to end the game.
The MVP campaign continues next week in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans, who were inactive amid an internal coronavirus outbreak.
The trip to Las Vegas was a successful one.
“We play as a team, and we truly play for each other,” Allen said. “It’s a great feeling when guys are pulling for each other on the field.”