So, Buffalo Bills fans, you breathing again yet?
Well, you can, because for the first time in 25 years, Buffalo is moving on in the postseason.
The Bills bested the Indianapolis Colts, 27-24, on Saturday afternoon in the first of six first round matchups during Super Wild Card Weekend, earning the franchise its first playoff victory since 1995.
Fans were allowed at Bills Stadium for the first time this season, and those 6,700 in attendance, along with the many watching from home, were treated to one thrilling football game.
Indianapolis played as advertised - strong defensively, ran the ball well, and Philip Rivers made an impact under center. In fact, despite losing in Wild Card Weekend for the first time in his career, the 17-year veteran quarterback played better than expected.
One can’t help but highlight the fact that the game came down to the final play. Just like in Buffalo’s Week 10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Bills’ opponent ran the final play from right around mid-field and got a decent throw off towards the end zone. However, unlike in the Arizona game, Buffalo’s defense was able to knock down the final prayer and seal the victory.
In the playoffs, it doesn’t matter how wins come. Just survive and advance. And while the Bills didn’t necessarily survive by the skin of their teeth on Saturday, they did outlast a very stingy, and good Colts team to move on.
The Bills will have to wait until the end of Wild Card Weekend before the team finds out which opponent they’ll host in the Divisional Round. If the Steelers defeat the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night (8:15 p.m. EST), Buffalo will take on Pittsburgh in a Week 14 rematch at Bills Stadium. However, if Cleveland wins, then the Bills will host the winner of the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, 1:05 p.m. EST).
Here are three quick observations from the Bills playoff victory over the Colts on Saturday:
1.) There’s a lot of significance in winning this game
The monkey is finally off the Bills’ backs now, right?
First postseason game in Buffalo since 1996: Check.
The Bills get their first playoff win in 25 years. Sean McDermott gets his first win in the postseason in three trips as Buffalo’s head coach. Josh Allen gets his first playoff victory and (seemingly) fully puts last year’s loss to the Houston Texans behind him.
It’s all coming together. This team that won its division and 13 games in the regular season is a contender, and still gets to host another playoff game next weekend.
The most enjoyable season of Bills football in the last quarter-century gets to continue, and they pulled off a gutsy win to keep it going.
Not only did the Bills overcome a late push from the Colts, led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback, but they also stopped a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the game, putting to bed all the outside noise the team may still hear due to that Week 10 loss in Arizona.
However, that last-second loss to the Cardinals remains to be the Bills’ last. Buffalo has now won seven-consecutive games, and will enjoy a bit of a longer break than their AFC foes, being the only game from the conference on Saturday.
The victory over the Colts means a lot for the team and the fans.
It snapped a long drought, sent 6,700 attendees home happy, validated this team’s ability (even further) to win tough games and beat good opponents, and, again, kept this incredible run going.
The more and more you watch and follow this team each week, the more special all this feels.
2.) Allen put on a (much-needed) great performance
While he did have an MVP-caliber regular season, the pressure was on Allen going into this game. After last year’s collapse in Houston, along with the campaign he’s put together this season, the 24-year-old quarterback had to come out and play really well against Indianapolis, and he did.
Allen overcame a slow start from the offense, and finished the game with 324 passing yards, while completing 26-of-35 attempts and throwing for two touchdowns. He also led the Bills in rushing, totaling 54 yards on the ground and also running for a touchdown.
Buffalo’s young quarterback has broken a number of team records this season, and Allen can add another one as he became the first quarterback in NFL history to put on the performance he did.
Despite having a middle-of-the-road secondary this season, the Colts’ boasted one of the top defenses in the NFL. Indianapolis got good pressure on Allen all afternoon with its pass-rush, led by All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. However, Allen played a clean game, committing no turnovers and completing over 70% of his passes.
Allen also did a nice job getting his receivers involved early on, hitting six different players for completions in the first quarter. When he needed to get Stefon Diggs going after being held to just one catch in the first half, Allen got the ball to his All-Pro receiver five times in the second half, including a 35-yard touchdown.
It wasn’t the most eye-popping performance from Allen this season, but it didn’t need to be. Also, to be fair, he was still really good.
With the first playoff win now under his belt, Allen’s confidence will (hopefully) only increase, which can only be a positive the further this team goes in the postseason.
3.) Defense didn’t play its best, but it was enough
The resurgence of the Bills’ defense was a big storyline in the games following the bye week.
The group regressed back to its "bend, but don’t break" form from the first half of the regular season, but it was enough to win games then, and it was enough to beat the Colts on Saturday.
Indianapolis’ run game didn’t really do too much damage. Running back Jonathan Taylor was held to 78 rushing yards, his regular season average (77.9), and a touchdown on 21 carries. The Colts, as a team, rushed for 163 yards, but it was Rivers and the passing attack that really hurt Buffalo.
The Colts finished 9-for-17 on third down, but Rivers seemed to make every throw when he needed to keep the drive alive, and keep Buffalo’s offense off the field. The veteran quarterback had a good game, possibly his last with the Colts, throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite all the numbers, and their struggles, and some possible “officiating errors,” Buffalo’s defense came up and made the necessary plays when it really needed to.
The first of two key moments for the defense came late in the second quarter, when head coach Frank Reich elected for the Colts to go for it on 4th-and-goal at the Bills’ four-yard line with 1:52 left.
Rivers’ pass to Michael Pittman Jr. in the end zone fell incomplete, turning the ball over to the Bills with plenty of time to get a score of their own. Buffalo went on a 10-play, 96-yard scoring drive in 1:32 to take a 14-10 lead. That 14-point swing for Buffalo, going into halftime up four instead of down 10 (17-7), was huge, considering how close the game got at the end.
The second key moment was the end of the game itself. The Bills’ season came down to a Hail Mary, right around mid-field, and the defense just had to knock the ball down, unlike what happened against Arizona.
That Week 10 loss to the Cardinals has made a huge impact on the Bills season, positive and negative. But there’s something to be said about this game ending the way it did. It was almost metaphorical, poetic.
The weight that’s been winning in the postseason was finally lifted off McDermott, Allen and the Bills’ backs, and the lingering thoughts and doubts from that loss to Arizona were finally erased when Micah Hyde knocked the ball to the turf and the clock hit 0:00.
Like I said before, the more and more you watch and follow this team, the more special this feels.