ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Ravens coach John Harbaugh was immediately impressed by Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen’s competitive fire following their first face-to-face encounter in an NFL setting.
It happened in the 2018 season opener, when the then-raw rookie Bills quarterback was shoved into the Ravens' sideline. Allen hopped up and exchanged words with players and Harbaugh before officials stepped in to separate everyone.
“He came up jawing and talking and shoving and pushing,” Harbaugh recalled as fifth-seeded Baltimore (12-5) prepares to face the AFC East champion Bills (14-3) in a divisional playoff Saturday night. “Rookie quarterback. Man, I love this guy.”
Allen was only in the game for mop-up duty after Nate Peterman was benched upon throwing his second interception, which led to the Ravens building a 40-0 lead in an eventual 47-3 victory.
What struck Harbaugh is how Allen refused to back down, a quality he also sees in Baltimore's Lamar Jackson, who also made his NFL debut that day as Joe Flacco’s backup.
“They’ve come up on the quote-unquote other side of the tracks from a football perspective where they came up the hard way, doubted often, and had to overcome that,” Harbaugh said. “I always like the underdog.”
Allen, whom the Bills traded up five spots to select No. 7 in the 2018 draft, had accuracy issues and was dismissed for playing at lowly regarded Wyoming. Jackson, selected 32nd in 2018, was questioned as to whether the dynamic mobility he showed at Louisville would translate to the NFL.
Three seasons later, both are coming off their first career playoff victories and have their teams one win short of appearing in the AFC championship game.