This is why you don’t rest your starters with a chance to earn a second home playoff game.
For those Bills fans who campaigned for that approach before Buffalo hosted Miami eight days ago, how would they feel about possibly being on the road come Saturday night?
Fortunately, coach Sean McDermott didn’t follow their advice, played his starters for a half (some for more) until the game was in hand (56-26 final) and assured the Bills would not only be at home for the wild-card postseason opener, but also hosting the divisional round if they beat Indianapolis.
Thus, the Ravens will be visiting Orchard Park five nights from now after the Browns stunned the Steelers, 48-37, Sunday evening in Pittsburgh.
THE IMPORTANCE of playing at home can’t be overstated.
Indeed, it could be argued that if Saturday afternoon’s game against the Colts had not been played at Bills Stadium, Buffalo’s season might already be over.
The crowd of 6,772 accounted for only 9% of the facility’s capacity, but its volume and enthusiasm gave some much-needed juice to the players. That was especially true in the harrowing final 2 ½ minutes whose palpable tension didn’t abate until a potential game-winning pass was swatted away in the end zone by safety Micah Hyde on the final play.
WHEN THE Bills fell to the Texans, 22-19 in overtime — after blowing a 16-0 third-period lead — in last January’s wild-card playoff game at Houston, much of the blame fell to second-year quarterback Josh Allen.
Undeniably, a couple of his poor decisions and misplays cost the game.
But, 371 days later, Allen is a different player.
Still, he would be the first to admit that, despite Buffalo’s 27-24 victory over Indianapolis, his performance was far from perfect.
“I’m still kicking myself for a couple of plays,” he conceded.
And two sequences showed the best and worst of Allen on Saturday against the Colts, Buffalo’s final offensive possessions in each half.
FIRST THE good.
With the Bills down 10-7 and having just held Indy on 4th-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Allen’s unit took the field 1:46 before intermission.
What followed was a 96-yard touchdown drive in 92 seconds in which Buffalo prevailed in three booth reviews and endured two overturned interceptions to take the lead for good.
On the second play Allen hit rookie wideout Gabriel Davis for 37 yards at the sideline. A booth review confirmed the catch. Two snaps later he hit Davis again, this time for 19 yards on the opposite sideline. Another booth review, another confirmation.
With 37 seconds remaining, the Colts jumped offside and Allen, knowing he had a free play, threw deep for veteran wide receiver John Brown only to be picked off by Colts cornerback Isaiah Rodgers. No harm done.
On the very next play, Allen went back to Brown in the end zone, with Rodgers seemingly intercepting again. This time, the booth review ruled the ball had come loose as he hit the turf.
Two snaps later the Bills’ QB scored on a 5-yard run and Indy would never be ahead again.
NOW THE BAD.
It actually came down to one horrific play.
With the Bills, who had been up by as many as 14, trying to hold on to a 27-24 lead, Buffalo had first down at the Colts’ 34, already in field goal range.
Allen took the snap and, under a furious rush from Indy’s Denico Autry, started retreating … all the way back to the Buffalo 49. But as he tried to get away from the sack, the Colts’ defensive lineman tore the ball away. Bills’ tackle Daryl Williams fortuitously recovered at the Buffalo 43.
However, the subsequent 2nd-and-33 virtually assured no conversion and also no field goal try.
Corey Bojorquez’s punt gave Indy the ball at its own 14 with 2:30 to play and no timeouts.
The Colts’ 43-yard drive ended with Philip Rivers’ desperation heave as time expired.
Afterward, Allen admitted of the 23-yard sack/fumble loss, “I tried to do too much.”
But unlike last year, Buffalo didn’t pay the price.
Other than that one nightmare play, Allen was beyond steady. He was 26-of-35 passing for 324 yards with two touchdowns (to tight end Dawson Knox and wide receiver Stephon Diggs), no interceptions and a solid 121.6 passer rating. Allen also rushed for 54 yards on 11 carries, including the TD.
His passing yardage marked only the fifth time in Bills’ playoff history a QB had exceeded 300, most recently by Doug Flutie (360) after the 1998 season.
And if Allen’s learning curve has reduced him to only one glaringly bad play per game, the Bills have ample reason for optimism come Saturday night against Baltimore.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)