How Josh Allen’s refusal to ‘Slide’ has Bills QB on verge of playoff record


Staff member

The question has been famous around Buffalo for a quarter century.

Favorite musical sons the Goo Goo Dolls made millions sing it: “Why don’t you slide?”

For a while around here, people have been screaming those words at someone who was making macaroni art when the multiplatinum radio mainstay “Slide” came out.

As is the case for much of the derring-do that has put Josh Allen on the verge of the all-time postseason rushing record for quarterbacks, those closest to him Monday night held their breath the Buffalo Bills’ most indispensable player would protect himself. They yelled. They begged. They tried telepathy.

“In your head, you’re screaming, ‘Slide!’ But then he’s weaving in and out of defenders, running guys over,” Bills tight end Dawson Knox said. “It’s hard to tell a guy to slide when he’s doing stuff like that.”

On third-and-8, Allen emerged from a crumbled pocket, both hands firmly grasping the ball in front of him as he scanned for space to traverse the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. He broke out, cut left, tucked the ball under his right armpit. Steelers safety Damontae Kazee, playing deep center field, sized up Allen from 15 yards away and zeroed in. Two other decorated defensive backs converged.

“There’s a lot of guys screaming, ‘Slide!’ ” Allen said. “Didn’t slide and scored.”

Allen juked left, lowered his shoulder and trucked Kazee to the cold turf. “Bounced that guy off the ground like a basketball,” left tackle Dion Dawkins said. Steelers stars Patrick Peterson and Minkah Fitzpatrick, perhaps assuming Allen would heed the cries, pulled up just a little too much. Allen split them, with receiver Andy Isabella and tight end Dalton Kincaid sealing them off.

The 52-yard touchdown run is quintessential Allen, reminding us all why he’s at his best when uncorralled and allowed to put his hulking body on the line.

Almost every offseason, the Bills make an organizational effort to modify Allen’s mindset, to recalibrate his instincts into something more conservative, more accountable, more judicious. And every year, Allen eventually re-embraces his devil-may-care methods.

Buffalo is better because of it. Anything becomes possible.

“The city gets wound up when they’re doing well, and he’s leading it all,” Goo Goo Dolls co-founder and bassist Robby Takac said from his North Buffalo home. “He has one of the highest interception rates and one of the highest completion percentages. It’s that old saying that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

“You never know what’s going to happen with him, but if you don’t just go for it, man, you’re never going to make it happen.”

Without Allen’s irrepressible duende, the Bills probably aren’t hosting the Kansas City Chiefs in another playoff round Sunday afternoon.

Takac doesn’t consider himself a diehard sports fan, but he sure loves Buffalo. With over 15 million Goo Goo Dolls albums sold, 16 top 10 hits and a few hitting No. 1, he can live anywhere in the world. He launched the non-profit Music is Art, a foundation that provides access to Western New York music programs, collaborative opportunities and instruction. Earlier this week, Takac spent part of his rock-star day shoveling snow away from the vents outside his parents’ West Seneca house.

“It was up over my chest!” Takac said.

He watches Bills games with his 12-year-old daughter and has reached the point of aggravation when he can’t find the game while traveling.

That’s what Josh Allen does to people. You can say the same thing about Taylor Swift, who might attend Highmark Stadium to watch her boyfriend, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. Swift has covered “Iris” with Goo Goo Dolls singer John Rzeznik and called it “one of the greatest songs ever written,” which must be pretty cool.

But Josh Allen is the one who will have Highmark Stadium fans in the palm of his hand Sunday.

“I like things that cause hysterias,” Takac said. “So when things start to get exciting, it’s fun to be a part of. It’s amazing to see what’s going on.

“When push comes to shove, they’ve never really won it all. But it’s amazing how this town rallies behind the idea that it might happen — or that it is going to happen. It’s bigger than themselves, and those are the things I love. They want it so bad.”

Goo Goo Dolls lyrics often draw on Buffalo’s hard-luck existence while wrapped in upbeat rhythms and riffs. Their 2004 hit “Broadway,” for instance, sounds like a proud anthem, but the words are bleak and borderline insulting. Rzeznik isn’t saluting New York City. No, this Broadway cuts through Buffalo’s downtrodden East Side, where Rzeznik grew up with an alcoholic dad and alongside other kids who’d assume their late fathers’ barstools.

“Slide” is no different in its duality. It’s about a teen pregnancy, delicate decisions and growing up too soon. But the song is so jangly — and many lines so universally aspirational — that “Sesame Street” brought Rzeznik and Takac into the studio to rewrite a version for Elmo called “Pride.”

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Allen might have been exposed to the Muppet version first. He was 2 years old when Warner Bros. released “Slide” as the first single off the album “Dizzy Up the Girl.”

Flash forward 25 years. Allen consistently proves he’s ready for whatever it takes.

I’ll do anything you ever dreamed to be complete.

“Josh can run through you. He can run around you,” Dawkins said. “He can throw over you. He can throw through you. He can do whatever he needs to get a win.”

In nine career playoff games, Allen has rushed for 491 yards. On Monday, he passed Donovan McNabb, Roger Staubach and John Elway into fourth all-time for postseason quarterbacks and is 16 yards behind Colin Kaepernick, 36 yards behind Russell Wilson and 103 yards behind record-holder Steve Young. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes enters the weekend seventh with 424 yards, while Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is ninth with 367 yards. Out of them all, Allen at 6.9 yards a carry ranks second only to Kaeperick’s gaudy 9.9 yards.

Allen’s 52-yard touchdown run is the longest of his career, the longest in Buffalo postseason history regardless of position and the second-longest in NFL postseason history by a quarterback.

“My hands were on my head and my jaw dropped,” said Bills receiver Khalil Shakir, who watched from the sideline. “I was just, like, ‘Wow.’ Plays like that, man, he’s just a freak of nature. He’s a guy that can make anything happen at any given time.

“When you got a guy like that on your team — especially leading the team at quarterback? — I mean, shoot, good luck.”

Kazee found out. The seven-year NFL veteran is 5-foot-11 and 174 pounds.

Allen is 6-foot-5 and these days weighs 238 pounds. Many dudes historically considered big loads were smaller. Larry Csonka weighed 237. Bills general manager Brandon Beane’s favorite player, John Riggins, aka “Diesel” weighed 230.

Among players who weigh at least 235 pounds, Allen ranks 15th in NFL history with 53 rushing touchdowns (more than Natrone Means, Christian Okoye and Cookie Gilchrist) in the regular season and 31st with 3,611 rushing yards (more than Larry Kinnebrew, Keith Byars and Peyton Hillis).

“You can’t tame a bucking bronco, and that’s what he is,” Beane said. “He seeks contact. If he was a basketball player, he’d always try to get the and-one. He’s not avoiding contact. He wants it. He brings it himself.

“It’s just who he is.”

What you feel is what you are, and what you are is beautiful.

Allen didn’t look like the same player for nearly three months. He looked like a zombie on the sidelines. He seemed like a prisoner in the pocket. He spoke about evolving into a more sensible quarterback, an executive instead of a swashbuckler.

The previous two years in 2021 and 2022, he averaged 762.5 rushing yards and 6.2 yards a carry. Allen through 11 games this season had 261 yards and averaged 4.6 a carry. Over the next six games, he ran for 263 yards at 6.6 yards an attempt. He ran eight times for 74 yards Monday against Pittsburgh.

It’s probably no coincidence that over that stretch the Bills are 6-1, their lone loss in overtime at the Philadelphia Eagles.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Dawkins said. “Josh needs to move his legs and hit people and get hit. That’s all a part of being a competitor. That’s the type of stuff that fuels him instead of hurts him.

“The fact he can do that whenever he wants to is scary. Knowing that we’re pushing for a Super Bowl, the less hits the better, but he’s been running through these hits and shaking them off. So let’s keep it going.”


In nine career playoff games, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen has 491 rushing yards, 103 behind record-holder Steve Young for quarterbacks. (Sam Navarro / USA Today)

After Allen played Week 8 with aggressive intent, including 41 rushing yards and a touchdown to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bills center Mitch Morse observed Allen “wanted to let his freak flag fly a little bit.” Told the Bills’ offensive seems more effective when Allen does so, Morse replied, “Yeah, that’s fair.”

Kansas City, however, doesn’t let quarterbacks run so easily. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo deploys a spy to keep scramblers in check. Aside from Week 18, when the Chiefs rested their starters, the most successful was Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields with 11 attempts for 47 yards.

Allen in six career games versus Kansas City has averaged 53.5 yards a game with only two TDs. In Week 14, he ran eight times for 34 yards (not counting victory formation kneeldowns) and a touchdown. But their playoff matchups are Allen’s two best rushing games: seven attempts for 88 yards three seasons ago and 11 attempts for 68 yards the next season.

And there weren’t many slides mixed in.

“All the times that I’m telling him, ‘Hey, look, man, there’s three guys around you. It’s the NFL. Just go down. You’re not going to be able to do it.’ Well, he just proved me wrong,” Bills offensive coordinator Joe Brady said of the 52-yard TD dash.

“He’s such a dynamic football player that I think when you try to hold Josh Allen back you’re probably doing a disservice.”

Rzeznik could have used several other one-syllable verbs for “Slide.” Asked if the word had a deeper meaning, Takac was unsure, but he revealed the song originally had a different title he couldn’t recall. Turns out, “Slide” — to borrow a music term — was simply in the pocket.

For the last 45 seconds of the song, following Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers organist Benmont Tench’s slick bridgework, Takac is the one repeatedly belting out “Slide!” on the background vocal.

So if Allen bolts from the pocket on Sunday afternoon, will Takac join Knox, Brady, McDermott and the rest in imploring him to slide?

“Dude, only if he needs to,” Takac said. “Just get over that line.”