Sometimes, all you have to do is survive.
The Colts threw the Bills one heck of an uppercut on Saturday afternoon. Philip Rivers showed why the Bills spent all last week calling him a Hall of Famer. Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines just kept on making plays. Indy’s defense seemed to confuse and frustrate the Bills in the first half. They nearly stole the game in the second.
The Bills took that punch and kept right on trucking to a 7th straight win and their first trip into the divisional round since 1995.
It says a lot about a team when they can handle an elite performance from an opponent and still win. It helps when the Bills have the more talented team and can spend the afternoon doing more talented things.
Josh Allen had 300 more yards passing, two more touchdown passes, one more touchdown run and his usual array of–as Dion Dawkins put it–Madden Character type plays. For 57 minutes, he looked like the special QB that deserves to be a part of every MVP conversation.
There was a lot of this game where the Bills looked like the Bills from the last few weeks. Stefon Diggs was again the prototypical number one receiver. It goes all the way back the first quarter, but his 36 yard catch and hold while taking a bone-rattling hit should not be overlooked. Cole Beasley did Cole Beasley things, despite nursing a knee injury. It seemed every time he touched the ball, the chain crew had to march ten more yards.
There were two items that encourage me the most. Number one, two rookies playing their first ever playoff game stepped up in a vital way. The footwork from Gabriel Davis on his two catches at the end of the first half might be enough to get him a shot at a role in the Nutcracker. He toe-tapped the Bills out of a first half deficit moments after it looked like Indy might take a ten point lead.
Tyler Bass hammered a 54 yard field goal with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter that turned out to be the difference in the game. The only thing this kid hasn’t done is make a last second game winner. In terms of importance and difficulty, the kick against the Colts was pretty darn close.
The second thing I like is that, while the Colts really controlled this game and dictated the pace, it was the Bills who made the plays that won drives. They got the 4th and goal stop. They did not miss the short field goal. They did not miss a TD in the red zone.
The championship teams are the ones that can find a way to win even if they don’t have their fastball for all 60 minutes. No better example than what happened at the end of the first half. Indianapolis probably won the first 28 minutes, but Buffalo makes four big plays in the last two minutes and they went to the half with a lead.
Without following the Colts week to week, it felt like Indianapolis raised their game Saturday. I’m not sure the Bills did. I don’t think the Bills played poorly or even below average, save for a couple of uncharacteristic wide receiver drops and the blown coverage that allowed the Colts a late touchdown. I thought the game was close primarily because the Colts were great.
The Bills might need to be great, too. Indianapolis is not in Buffalo’s realm when it comes to talent, but the Steelers, Ravens and Titans might be and the Chiefs certainly are. Micah Hyde has often said the playoffs are a different speed than the regular season. The hope for the Bills is that this tighter than expected win showed them they need to find another gear.
Keep in mind that all of the following fell right for the Bills against Indy:
- The only 4th and goal
- Two Davis catches that were millimeters from being out of bounds
- The Josh Allen pass that Isaiah Rodgers had two hands on near the end of the first half
- The Josh Allen fumble
- The field goal that hit two uprights
This is not to say the Bills got lucky or did not deserve to win. Far from it. The point is that the Bills did not commit a turnover, had just two penalties, took only two sacks, got plenty of 50-50 plays to go their way and STILL went to the wire with the worst team they’re going to face in the playoffs.
They survived. In the playoffs, that’s all you have to do. It’s also a huge step for a team that has not survived a playoff game in 25 years.
But if they want to survive all the way to the Super Bowl, there must be better… better even than the team we saw decimate the NFL in December.