The Bills won their first playoff game in 25 years Saturday, beating the Colts 27-24. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective. Win and move on.
The game was all about Josh Allen. He outgunned Philip Rivers in the passing game, and he led the Bills in rushing. In all, Allen accounted for 354 of the Bills 397 yards of offensive production.
Allen was his usual spectacular self. Trailing 3-0 early in the game, he led the Bills on an eight-play, 85 yard drive. Along the way, he made multiple big throws, including a 37-yard flick-of-the-wrist bullet to Stefon Diggs. Maybe Aaron Rodgers makes that throw – no one else. And then, on second and goal from the three, on a cleverly designed run pass option draw play, Allen picked and probed along the line, looking for a seam to run through to the end zone.
Finding nothing, Allen backed off. Off balance and on his way to the ground, Allen somehow delivered a wobbling, floating football to a wide open Dawson Knox for the touchdown. One key to the play was the offensive line not pushing downfield, as they would have on a straight running play, and avoiding a flag for having players illegally down field. The other key was having a 6’5”, 240 pound athletic competitor with the ball in his hands.
Allen was at it again late in the half. After Frank Reich mysteriously passed up a chip shot field goal to tie the game and instead watched his team get stuffed by the Bills defense, Allen took the Bills on a 96-yard drive, highlighted by two really special sideline passes to Gabriel Davis, one for 37 yards to the right and the other for 19 yards to the left. Davis tapped his toes so close to the line that both were reviewed, but there was not enough evidence in either case to overturn the completion calls. Inside the red zone, Brian Daboll relied on Allen to run the ball in for the touchdown.
In the second half, Allen had a beautiful 35-yard TD strike to Diggs. The Diggs TD was one of twelve consecutive completions from Allen.
Simply put, it was Allen left, Allen right, Allen up the middle all afternoon. He ran, he threw, he led the team. Yes, he threw a near-interception, he took a tough sack, and he fumbled; no matter. Allen was THE star. 26 for 35, 324 yards and two TDs passing, 54 yards and a TD rushing. That’s what the Bills need from their quarterback in the playoffs, and that’s what they got.
The Bills needed all of Allen’s heroics, because Reich had a good game plan and Philip Rivers executed it nearly flawlessly. The Colts’ running game gashed the Bills all afternoon, including late in the game when the Colts repeatedly and relentlessly marched downfield for scores. In the fourth quarter, the Bills defense looked gassed, and the Colts kept coming. The Colts’ last gasp started with two and a half minutes left in the game; they needed a field goal to force overtime, a TD to win.
The Colts managed to move the ball on that final drive, converting two fourth down plays along the way. On the second, Poyer made a spectacular, heady play, forcing a fumble that Tre’Davious White recovered. The officials ruled the receiver down by contact, but it was clear that the receiver went down without contact. Poyer intentionally didn’t touch the receiver until he got up to head downfield, at which point Poyer made the tackle and stripped the ball. The refs missed it live and inexplicably, on replay. No matter – the Bills kept the Colts out of field goal range, and Micah Hyde stopped the Hail Mary pass on the final play, his third defended pass on a day when he seemed to be making every play.
For the first time in a couple of months, the Bills defense seemed disorganized from time to time. There was more than the usual pre-snap checking among defenders, repositioning themselves, trying to get ready. Some misunderstanding between Milano and White and maybe others allowed a Colts tight end to run unchecked into the end zone, where Rivers found him for an easy score. In the immortal words of Dick Jauron, the Bills have some things to clean up.
Tyler Bass provided the margin of victory in the middle of the 4th quarter, when he drilled a clutch 54-yard field goal into the wind. Drafting Bass to replace Stephen Hauschka is looking like a great move.
There’s no doubt – teams have to learn to win in the playoffs. In 2018 the Biills were just glad to be there. In 2020, with a young and inexperienced QB, they stumbled at the end of the game and lost. The Bills have built on those experiences; they weren’t in total control of the Colts game, but they won and they learned again.
The Division championship game is the next step.
Editor’s babble: Just let out my first breath since the game ended. Wow. And how much fun will be to sit and watch football all day to see who the Bills will face next weekend! Big thanks to Mark Korber for his contributions to our blog. You can’t find Mark on Twitter, but you can find him posting on twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall Message Board.