Behind defense, Bills recapture past glory
The Buffalo Bills are returning to the AFC championship game for the first time since they were the team that made reaching but losing Super Bowls an agonizing annual ritual in the franchise’s heydays, with Marv Levy coaching a star-laden lineup that included Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith.
Those past glories finally are being recaptured by the best Bills team in a generation, led by brilliant young quarterback Josh Allen. A memorable season became even more so Saturday night when the Bills beat the Baltimore Ravens, 17-3, in Orchard Park, N.Y., in a divisional playoff game before a delighted crowd of 6,772 fans at Bills Stadium.
“Our defense stepped up,” Allen said. “That’s playoff football. It doesn’t matter how it looks. You either get it done or you don’t.”
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson suffered a concussion on the final play of the third quarter, according to coach John Harbaugh, and exited the game. The second-seeded Bills ended the season of the fifth-seeded Ravens and advanced to next weekend’s AFC championship game, on the road against the top-seeded Chiefs or, if Cleveland upsets Kansas City on Sunday, at home against the sixth-seeded Browns.
Allen threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs and cornerback Taron Johnson had a touchdown on an interception and 101-yard return, matching the longest interception return in NFL postseason history, as the Bills broke open a tight game with a third-quarter flurry Saturday. The calamitous quarter for the Ravens ended with Jackson in the locker room and in the NFL concussion protocol after he was knocked to the turf while throwing a pass upon retrieving an errant snap.
Undrafted rookie Tyler Huntley took over at quarterback
and finished the game. Huntley overthrew receiver Marquise Brown, who was open deep, with one fourth-down pass. He later missed a connection
with tight end Mark Andrews on a fourth-and-goal pass into the end zone.
“It’s a tough loss,” Harbaugh said. “To get to the championship game, you’ve got to play two really great games and things have got to bounce your way. It didn’t happen for us today.”
It is the Bills’ first trip to an AFC championship game in 27 years. They last were there in January 1994 when they beat the Chiefs to secure their fourth straight Super Bowl appearance, all of which resulted in losses.
It has been a season filled with “first time since” accomplishments for the Bills. They won their first AFC East title since 1995. They had their first home playoff game since December 1996. They beat the Colts last weekend at Bills Stadium for their first postseason victory since December 1995. Now they have added to that list.
“It’s only going to get tougher from here,” Allen, who completed 23 of 37 passes for 206 yards, said in a postgame video news conference. “Every game has more riding on it than the last. We know that. We’re ready for it.”
The Ravens, one week removed from securing the first postseason win of Jackson’s NFL career, failed in their bid to reach their first AFC championship game in eight years.