ORCHARD PARK — Bills backup Matt Barkley feels far more prepared if he’s required to start in place of Josh Allen this weekend than he was the last time.
Signed by the Bills last Oct. 30, Barkley had 12 days before being rushed into action with Allen sidelined by a strained right throwing elbow. This time, Barkley’s had 11 months to get ready if the second-year starter isn’t cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol before Buffalo (3-1) plays at Tennessee (2-2) on Sunday.
“Yeah, I was a little limited last time with the my knowledge of the offense, but we got it done,” Barkley said Wednesday, referring to leading Buffalo to a 41-10 rout over the New York Jets in his first start in two years. He finished 15 of 25 for 232 yards and two touchdowns in a performance that led Buffalo to sign Barkley to a two-year contract extension.
“I’ve come a long way just in my total grasp in what we’re trying to do.”
The chances of Barkley starting remain unclear after Buffalo practiced for the first time since Allen was sidelined following a helmet-to-helmet hit in the fourth quarter of a 16-10 loss to New England on Sunday.
Though Barkley ran the offense in practice, Allen was healthy enough to be on the field during the portion of the session open to the media.
Listed by the team as having limited participation, Allen took the first snaps in hand-off drills and then threw the first pass in working with receivers. Being allowed to practice is considered one of the final steps before a player can be cleared to play under the protocol.
And Allen didn’t look like someone feeling lingering effects of a head injury following a pre-practice huddle, when he took off in a full sprint in beating Barkley to the far end of the field.
“Well that’s no different from the norm,” Barkley said, noting he can’t match Allen’s speed. “If I do end up beating him in a race, then you should start thinking that something’s up.”
As for how Allen appeared, Barkley said: “He seems like Josh.”
Allen wasn’t available for comment because players in the protocol aren’t allowed to speak to the media. Coach Sean McDermott was limited in what he could say because the decision to clear Allen rests with an independent neurological consultant.
McDermott does have trust in Barkley.
“He’s well respected by our team. He’s earned everything he’s gotten here,” McDermott said. “There’s a lot of internal belief in Matt Barkley, and we know he will be ready to go if need be this week.”
Barkley was inconsistent in going 9 of 16 for 127 yards and an interception in failing to rally the Bills from a six-point deficit over the final quarter against New England. Facing a fourth-and-goal at the 3, Barkley lofted a pass that went off Zay Jones’ fingertips for an incompletion in the end zone. And the loss was sealed when Barkley threw an interception under pressure while facing third-and-9 at New England’s 39 with 1:27 left.
“It’s in the past,” Barkley said. “I think the comforting part is no one is discouraged in the locker room. There’s no one still hanging their head.”
Whoever starts, the focus is on cleaning up a sloppy offense that’s tied for the league high in committing 10 turnovers and seven interceptions. Allen accounts for eight of those giveaways with seven interceptions and two lost fumbles.
“Just protect the ball, because the stats are undeniable when you win the turnover battle what the outcome is,” Barkley said. “It’s no different this week, and we’re just trying to let it show on Sunday.”
The Bills are Barkley’s sixth team in seven years, including two separate stops in Cincinnati and Arizona since being selected by Philadelphia in the fourth of the 2013 draft. He’s appeared in just 14 NFL games, with a 2-5 record over seven starts _ six coming during the 2016 season in Chicago.
Barkley won over the Bills by how quickly he grasped the offensive playbook and built chemistry with his receivers against the Jets. Rookie Robert Foster had three catches for 105 yards and Jones had career bests with eight catches and 93 yards, plus a touchdown.
Barkley even hit left tackle Dion Dawkins for a 7-yard touchdown pass.
NOTES: FB Patrick DiMarco also didn’t practice due to a concussion. … RB Devin Singletary, who has missed two games with a left hamstring injury, was limited in practice. … Buffalo shuffled its practice squad by signing WR Nick Easley and releasing WR Jordan Veasy.