Josh Allen stood at the podium one year ago Monday and shouldered the responsibility for his first NFL playoff loss. He also vowed that it would fuel him moving forward.
Moments from that overtime defeat in Houston remain a motivating factor even now, as he and the Buffalo Bills prepare for another wild-card matchup with the Indianapolis Colts.
"It still lingers a little bit, just knowing the situation of the game and things I could have done differently and reads I could have changed," Allen said.
"… If I could change it, obviously I would. But I'm glad I can't."
And why would he? It is no stretch to call what has transpired in the 12 months since the greatest season by a quarterback in Bills history, and perhaps the best in the NFL this season.
Allen broke virtually all of the team's single-season passing records, including passing yards (4,544), passing touchdowns (37), total touchdowns (46), completions (396), and completion percentage (69.2 percent). He became the first quarterback in NFL history NFL history with 4,500-plus passing yards, 35-plus passing touchdowns, and five-plus rushing touchdowns in a single season.
Dion Dawkins could see the seeds being planted for Allen's incredible season as early as May, when the quarterback arranged workouts for he and his fellow members of the offense in Miami to make up for missed face time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was there that Allen threw his first passes to Stefon Diggs, laying the foundation for what would become the most productive quarterback and receiver tandem in the NFL in 2020. Cole Beasley, John Brown, Gabriel Davis, and various other were on hand as well.
"If I could describe it, it was just all positive energy that Josh just planted that hatched throughout the entire season," Dawkins said. "Him getting to know some of his new players, getting that connection with him taking the time out of his offseason to bring the offense down to Florida to throw the ball around and to bond with the guys.
"Basically, Josh just laid out that red carpet and everybody just walked the walk."
Take a look at Josh Allen's best photos from the 2020 season, presented by Toyota.
You can bet the loss to the Texans was a motivating factor when Allen arranged those spring workouts, just as it was during his offseason workouts with personal coach Jordan Palmer and during a conversation when he “forcefully” asked Tony Romo how he could improve his mechanics.
The main takeaway that Allen took from that game: Stop trying to do too much. The never-say-die attitude that endeared Allen to fans and teammates alike actually hurt him at times in Houston, including a pair of fumbles.
Allen referenced that lesson following a win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 3, when he led a game-winning drive after the Bills had surrendered a 25-point lead in the second half. Allen executed that drive with a poise that has since become a defining trait in his game, whether he was trading blows with Russell Wilson or hitting Diggs for a late go-ahead touchdown in Arizona.
Palmer laid out the difference Tuesday during a conversation on One Bills Live. During Allen's days at Wyoming and through his first two NFL seasons, when Allen rolled out right, it meant he was trying to make a play. Sometimes it resulted in a highlight. Others, it was an unnecessary hit or a throw into double coverage.
There is considerably less of that these days. When Allen does throw across his body, as he did to Diggs against the Patriots in Week 12, the receiver on the other end is all alone.
"The theme is – and it's all him – but the theme from at least my conversations has really been around control," Palmer said. "Physically, mentally, and emotionally.
"Josh is an elite competitor. He has zero interest in second place whatsoever, and he never has. … Being in control of his emotions and knowing that, 'Man, I really want to try and make these five guys miss and throw it 80 yards down the field but, nope, I'm going to throw it out of bounds. Second down.'"
On top of developing poise, Allen spent the offseason breaking down his mechanics. He mastered the Bills' playbook and harped on mutual accountability with his receivers, down to the last detail of each and every route.
It was this tenacious drive to improve that motivated general manager Brandon Beane to select Allen with the seventh-overall pick in 2018 at a time when many a doubter questioned whether the Wyoming gunslinger could ever shed his backyard tendencies.
While others dissected Allen's completion percentage, Beane got to know the person. He watched how Allen treated people on his pre-draft visit to Buffalo – not coaches and owners, but drivers and cafeteria staff. By the end, he was sold.
"This is the only thing I can say," Beane said after signing a contract extension last month. "Whether you thought he was going to be a good player or not, if you're around this young man, you knew that he was going to leave no stone unturned to be the best player he can be. And I was willing, and we as an organization were willing to live or die with that."
So, what drives Josh Allen? It's certainly not franchise records of MVP awards.
"Really, the only thing when I'm on the field is my fear of letting my teammates down," he said. "As quarterback of the team, your job is to move the ball and to score points. So, when we're not scoring points, that's my biggest fear. It's putting our defense in a bind if we're not moving the chains on third down, again, that puts us behind the eight ball and we've got to punt the ball away.
"That's what drives me. That's what motivates me. I fear letting the guys who drafted me, this front office and this organization, down. … Basically, that's the biggest fear that I have and that's I guess why, in my mind, I work extremely hard."