Buffalo Bills use 101-yard interception return to beat Ravens and advance to AFC championship game

Sal Maiorana
 
| USA TODAY

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – For almost the entire season, the Buffalo Bills have soared on the wings of the most prolific offense in the franchise’s 61-year history, simply outscoring overmatched opponents along the way.

Saturday night in the AFC divisional round playoff showdown against Baltimore, with Josh Allen and the offense struggling to find any rhythm most of the way, the Bills had to look to their defense, and it came through with a performance for the ages.

Completely throttling the dangerous Lamar Jackson and knocking him out of the game late in the third quarter with a concussion, the Bills’ defense stole the show and keyed a 17-3 victory that sends them to the AFC championship game next Sunday.

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Now the Bills wait to see who they will play – either the Chiefs in Kansas City or, if you can believe this, the Browns here at Bills Stadium.

The signature play was, of course, made by nickel cornerback Taron Johnson. Trailing 10-3, the Ravens were on their way to what looked like a tying touchdown drive in the third quarter when they came upon a third-and-goal from the 9.

Jackson dropped back to pass, had time, but the Bills’ zone defense had everything covered. Rather than take off and run which he is known to do, he tried to squeeze a pass into tight end Mark Andrews. Bad idea.

Johnson stepped in front to intercept it one yard deep in the end zone and then raced 101 yards the other way as the crowd of 6,700 went bonkers.

No doubt it was the biggest play, but all night the defense came up big, right to the very end, even when backup quarterback Tyler Huntley – who had just been called up from the practice squad – threw a fourth-and-goal pass incomplete into the end zone with 2:40 left.

This became just the fourth game all year where the Bills failed to reach 20 points, and it was just their second win in those four games, the other coming against the Jets. 

It’s safe to assume that no one saw this game coming, especially what we saw in the first half, a 3-3 tie where Jackson had more passing yards than Allen (123-120), but that was the situation.

Allen just never looked comfortable, and given that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called 25 pass plays to just one run, this was not a good development for the Bills. They needed Allen to be sharp, and he wasn’t.

He was 23 of 37 with a touchdown and no interceptions. The Bills rushed for just 32 yards. 

No doubt the windy night was a factor, as it was for placekickers. Each team missed two field goals.

So now the Bills will be playing for their first trip to the Super Bowl since after the 1993 season. That game marked their fourth consecutive Super Bowl appearance — all defeats. 

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