untung99.biz: Matt Barkley shines for Buffalo Bills in win over Indianapolis Colts

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ORCHARD PARK – There probably isn’t a player on the Buffalo Bills roster who loves preseason games more than third-string quarterback Matt Barkley.

The summer is Barkley’s only time to shine because when your career has been reduced to residing on the practice squad behind one of the NFL’s best – not to mention most durable – quarterbacks in Josh Allen, plus a hired gun backup like Case Keenum (2022) and Kyle Allen (2023), these holistically meaningless exhibition games have plenty of meaning for Barkley.

“You have to take advantage of them and it’s hard to not force things to try to make a splash, you know?” Barkley said Saturday after he completed 14 of 15 passes for 172 yards and touchdowns to Tyrell Shavers and Dezmon Patmon to lead the Bills to a 23-19 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at Highmark Stadium.

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The 32-year-old Barkley is one of the longest-tenured members of the team, having come to Buffalo in 2018 (he was away in 2021), the same year Josh Allen was drafted. That was the crazy season when four quarterbacks started games – Allen, Barkley, Derek Anderson and Nathan Peterman. Barkley’s only start came on Nov. 11 when Allen was still recovering from an elbow injury, and he lit up the Jets for 232 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-10 Buffalo victory at the Meadowlands.

From then through 2020 Barkley was Allen’s backup, but his game action amounted to next to nothing. In Week 4 of 2019 when Allen got rocked early in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Patriots and couldn’t finish, Barkley came on to close what became a 16-10 loss to the Patriots.

And then in 2020 there were four mop-up appearances, the most prominent coming in the season finale when Allen rested in the second half against the Jets with Buffalo having already secured its playoff seed.

That was the last time Barkley has played in a regular-season game. He left the Bills in 2021 when they signed Mitchell Trubisky to back up Allen and spent the year bouncing from the Titans to the Panthers to the Falcons without ever playing. After his release from Atlanta, knowing full well that he was going to be the practice squad quarterback, he re-signed with Buffalo.

Barkley realized at that point that his days even as a backup in the NFL were probably done and returning to Buffalo, where he knew the offensive system so well and had great relationships with Allen and the coaching staff, was the smart play.

And so when he takes the field in a preseason game, Barkley treats it like his personal playoff game. Last year in the preseason game against the Colts, Barkley completed 18 of 24 passes for 224 yards and rallied the Bills from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to a 27-24 victory.

He finished the three 2022 preseason games 34 of 45 for 389 yards, but that three-week sample mattered little because Keenum was entrenched as the backup. However, Saturday’s performance may have opened coach Sean McDermott’s eyes in terms of who deserves to be the backup this season.

Unlike Keenum who was on a $6 million contract, Kyle Allen is signed for just one year at $1.2 million. If Barkley outperforms him in these final two games and during the weeks to come in practice, it’s very possible that their roles get reversed and Barkley wins the backup job.

When he was asked about the quarterback play, McDermott said, “Yeah, I thought it was kind of hot and cold at times. I thought we moved the ball at times, and then we stalled out or we weren’t (sharp). In the second half, I felt it was a little bit better moving the ball on a more consistent basis. Matt getting the ball out, I thought we got into a good rhythm.”

Is it an actual open competition between Barkley and Allen? McDermott’s simple reply was “Yes.”

Now, this was one game, and Allen played the first half and one series into the third quarter going against the Colts first-team defense early, and then a group of reserves, many of whom will make their roster. Barkley was playing against players who very likely won’t make the Colts, and may not even be in the NFL come next month.

And Barkley also admitted, “It’s nice when you’ve been in an offense for longer than a year, you kind of get used to the calls and know what to expect and how to see things so it was fun.”

Allen doesn’t have that luxury. He is still trying to grasp the complexity of Ken Dorsey’s system, which was built on the foundation put in place by Brian Daboll. Barkley has nearly four full years in that system, Allen has four months.

“I need reps in this offense,” Allen said on the final day at St. John Fisher University. “I think just from a quarterback perspective, coming into a new offense, especially one as dense as this, the learning curve is big and you’ve got to go out on the field and work through those plays and different coverages and different looks and so you have a plan for everything that can be thrown at you.”

From Barkley’s perspective, he thinks Allen is doing just fine.

“I’ve been here longer so naturally I’m going to have a better understanding of everything,” Barkley said. “I think he’s done a great job of coming in and learning everything that he can. But just like with anything, the longer you’re in it, the more you know.”

Sal Maiorana can be reached at maiorana@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana and on Threads @salmaiorana1. To subscribe to Sal’s newsletter, Bills Blast, which will come out every Friday during training camp, please follow this link:https://profile.democratandchronicle.com/newsletters/bills-blast