The Buffalo Bills defeated the Baltimore Ravens 17-3 on Saturday night to advance to the AFC Championship Game. For a game with an over/under of 49.5, the defensive prowess might have come as a bit of a surprise. Strong winds and strong game plans aided any bettors who took the under last week.
As for our five players to watch, they all stepped up when called upon, and while some had bigger games than others, they each contributed to the Bills’ victory. Here’s how our spotlight players performed against Baltimore.
QB Josh Allen
This is how far our expectations for Allen have risen throughout this incredible season of his: If it were 2019 and Allen completed 62 percent of his passes for 206 yards and a touchdown with zero turnovers, we’d all have been ecstatic. Now? Well, that line represents one of his worst overall days of the 2020 season. Of course, numbers don’t tell the whole story, as Baltimore has a formidable defense and the Bills had to contend with whipping, howling Western New York winds all throughout the night. It might not have been Allen’s prettiest effort of the year or his most efficient, but what it was instead was a poised, workmanlike evening where he consistently made enough plays to keep the Bills in positive situations. Allen found openings when the Ravens played zone, and he gave his receivers chances to make plays when the defense played man. He narrowly missed on two more touchdowns—a wind-effected overthrow to Stefon Diggs and a strike to Gabriel Davis that the rookie dropped—which would have given his stats more sex appeal. The sexiest thing a quarterback can do in the postseason, though, is win, and while wins may not be a QB stat, it always feels better when the quarterback plays well enough to win in January. Allen made some excellent throws (the pass to John Brown, for example, when Allen slipped, stood up, eluded the pass rush, and somehow threw a dart 15 yards downfield through that wind), and he lucked out a few times (the Matt Judon strip-sack that was fortunately covered by Dion Dawkins comes to mind). Buffalo has a date with the Kansas City Chiefs next week, and it was the Chiefs who held Allen to just 122 passing yards and his lowest completion rate (51.9 percent) of the season back in October. That game was played in a sloppy rain with an injured John Brown, so better weather, the experience that comes from studying one’s struggles, and a fully healthy receiving corps should lead to a much better effort this time around. The Bills will need it.
RB Devin Singletary
Well, Motor played more snaps like we anticipated—he was on the field for 84 percent of the team’s plays—but the extra touches didn’t materialize. One week after the Ravens shut down Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll decided to eschew the running game and stick with what Buffalo does best, which is throw the ball. Singletary had seven carries for just 25 yards, adding three receptions for 12 yards on the day. However, on Buffalo’s best offensive drive, which was the touchdown drive to open the second half, Singletary carried three times for 20 yards. By breaking the extreme pass-heavy tendency they showed in the first half, Singletary was able to find some room and give Buffalo a boost on their way to their lone offensive touchdown. Singletary carried ten times for 32 yards against Kansas City in their first meeting, and with Zack Moss out for the rest of the season, he’ll be in line for plenty of snaps next week, as well. If the Bills can establish a little rhythm on the ground, it will help to keep the Chiefs’ offense off the field.
WR Stefon Diggs
Buffalo’s top target came up huge on Saturday, as he caught eight passes on 11 targets for 106 yards and a touchdown. His teammate across the field, John Brown, also had a big day, equaling Diggs in targets and receptions while gaining 62 yards. Daboll deserves credit for scheming Diggs open, as Cris Collinsworth mentioned during the broadcast. Buffalo was able to match Diggs on the Ravens’ fourth corner at times by putting him in the slot. That helped Diggs to run away from Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, and Marcus Peters for a time. On the touchdown, Diggs caught a perfectly placed screen pass and fought his way into the end zone to give the Bills a lead they would never relinquish. Against Kansas City in October, Diggs caught six passes for 46 yards and a touchdown.
EDGE Mario Addison
There is so much to talk about here, and only some of it relates to Addison, so I apologize a little for going off track here. The Bills had nine active defensive linemen. Every one of them played at least one-third of the snaps. That includes three guys (Trent Murphy, Justin Zimmer, and Harrison Phillips) who have been healthy scratches at points this year. It includes other high-priced free-agent additions (Vernon Butler, Quinton Jefferson, and Addison), a high draft pick (Ed Oliver), and the longest-tenured Bill (Jerry Hughes). Every one of these guys was unbelievable on Saturday night. Addison made two tackles and he added a sack and a forced fumble. Hughes had two sacks and three tackles. Phillips led all of the defensive linemen in tackles with four. This whole group was the real reason why the Bills were able to win this game. Their adherence to their gaps, their ability to generate pressure while still containing Lamar Jackson, and their ability to finish plays kept the Ravens in negative down-and-distance scenarios all day. A game like this one is why you spend a ton of money on defensive line depth. The ability to run a fresh unit out there on any given play against a big, strong, power-run team is a luxury that most teams don’t have. Addison and his linemates were outstanding on Saturday night.
LB Tremaine Edmunds
Tremaine was a man on Saturday night. He looked great in blitz situations, totaling two quarterback hits. He looked great in coverage situations, sticking with Mark Andrews over the middle. He looked great in spy situations, as Lamar Jackson rushed for just 34 yards, his second-lowest total of the season. Edmunds paced all players in tackles on the game, too, as he had nine on the evening while playing his customary 100 percent snap share. Re-watch the Taron Johnson interception, too, and check out where Edmunds is positioned: by taking away the place Andrews is supposed to go (the middle), he forces Jackson to throw to the outside shoulder. That ball placement allowed Johnson to step in and make the house call. Edmunds played his responsibility to perfection on the biggest play of the night—and one of the biggest plays in the history of the franchise.