The Buffalo Bills entered Saturday’s Wild Card game against the Indianapolis Colts as seven-point favorites. The last time Buffalo was favored in a playoff game, Jim Kelly started it—losing his final NFL game to the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-27.
Saturday, the result was different, as safety Micah Hyde knocked down a Hail Mary attempt from Philip Rivers as time expired to give the Bills a 27-24 win over the Colts. The Bills trailed early, but they managed to take a 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter before the Colts rallied to tighten things up considerably. Ultimately, the Bills prevailed in a tough game.
Which of our five players to watch performed well on Saturday? Read on to find out!
QB Josh Allen
The third-year quarterback looked like a completely different player than the one who started last year’s Wild Card loss at the Houston Texans. Allen was poised, accurate, and fearless, accounting for 355 of Buffalo’s 397 total yards (counting the 23 yards Allen lost as a result of sacks). He threw a shotput-style touchdown pass to tight end Dawson Knox to open the scoring for Buffalo, making something out of nothing as the Colts blew up the designed-run call. Later, he dropped an absolute dime for Stefon Diggs (or, as Steve Tasker put it, Allen “threw a grain of rice through a keyhole”) on a 35-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to push the Bills’ lead to 24-10. Allen completed 26-of-35 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns, adding 11 rushes for 54 yards and another touchdown on the ground. With all of the positives, though, my son (who might not realize how lucky he is given that, at six years old, this is Buffalo’s third playoff appearance of his life) asked me why Allen seemed so mad in his postgame interview. The only thing I can think of is that Allen realizes that, in spite of how well he performed all day, it was the one terrible play that he made that very nearly cost the Bills the game. On Buffalo’s final offensive possession, the Bills had a first down at the Colts’ 34-yard line. Allen dropped back to pass, faced pressure, tried to extend the play, and was sacked. He fumbled. The Colts nearly recovered. However, Darryl Williams was able to cover it, setting up a 2nd-and-33 for the Bills. This isn’t a Nick Wright-style idiotic hot take, so please don’t misunderstand, but that one negative play came within one funny bounce of the ball from erasing every other good thing he did on the afternoon. That’s not lost on Allen, and it isn’t something that he takes lightly.
The point I’m making here is that, in the life of a perfectionist, the mistakes will outweigh the positives. Allen is a perfectionist. Allen is on a mission. Allen is not satisfied with how he played—not because he didn’t play well, but because he knows that he wasn’t perfect. That might be my favorite thing about him. This kid is for real, and he continues to prove it week in and week out.
WR John Brown
Smoke played more snaps than any Buffalo receiver. That’s crazy when you consider that he had zero impact on the game from a statistical standpoint. Brown was targeted four times, and he caught zero passes. He had one ball zip right through his hands. He was unable to haul in another with tight coverage as he crossed from right to left. Perhaps Brown’s presence opened space up for Buffalo’s other wideouts, but the other three receivers in Buffalo’s receiving corps all had huge games. Stefon Diggs led the way, catching six balls for 128 yards and a touchdown. Cole Beasley, gutting it out through a sore knee, led the team in receptions with seven (on seven targets, no less), totaling 57 yards. And rookie Gabriel Davis was on point, giving his best Mikhail Baryshnikov impersonation, making two beautiful sideline grabs on a 96-yard touchdown drive to close the first half. Davis caught all four of his targets for 85 yards. Maybe Brown and Allen need some time to rediscover some chemistry, and you can never have too many weapons, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see less smoke and more Davis next week.
G Ike Boettger
The Bills held up well in pass protection for most of the day, keeping Allen clean on rushes from the edge and the middle. Their run blocking was not very good, though, as Zack Moss and Devin Singletary combined for ten carries and 42 yards. Half of that yardage came on two carries. The interior offensive line might not be the top offseason need for Buffalo, but it’s definitely going to be a point of emphasis. Jon Feliciano is a free agent, and Cody Ford will be coming off an injury. Boettger has earned his time this year, but he is also a free agent at the end of the season. Boettger handled DeForest Buckner about as well as anyone could have hoped.
LB Matt Milano
Milano had a tough day, as the Colts exploited the Bills at the second level multiple times via their tight ends and crossing routes. On one long Colts touchdown—a 27-yard toss to Jack Doyle to cut the lead to 27-22—Milano let Doyle go in coverage, and it looked like he expected help from either Jordan Poyer or Tre’Davious White. Neither man gave him any help, and Doyle found himself all alone in the end zone for six. Milano was aggressive in run support, especially early on when the Bills emphasized taking Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines out of the game. While Tremaine Edmunds outplayed Milano overall on the day, Milano led the team in tackles with 11, adding a pass breakup to his ledger.
CB Levi Wallace
Michael Pittman Jr. absolutely incinerated the Bills in the first half, catching four balls for 91 yards on six targets. Much of that came when he ran crossing routes with Wallace in tow, and when the Bills’ secondary tried to match up with him on the way, it wasn’t working very well. In the second half, Tre’Davious White played Pittman in man coverage more often, and Pittman was entirely neutralized: he caught one pass for minus-one yard after intermission. Wallace had three tackles and he forced a fumble (no—not that fumble) that rolled out of bounds on the Colts’ final drive. Wallace essentially split snaps with veteran Josh Norman, as Wallace played 44 defensive snaps and Norman played 34.