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Seven Buffalo Bills playoff games and their effects on the team today

Iron sharpens iron

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills are set to take on the Miami Dolphins in a wild card playoff game at 1:00 p.m. EST this afternoon in Highmark Stadium. The game, a win-or-go-home affair between two longstanding division rivals with a good degree of entertainment value, will have some added personal significance for your humble narrator.

For those unfamiliar, I returned to Buffalo Rumblings earlier this season after a six-year hiatus from the site I founded in April of 2007. For over nine years, until June of 2016, I blogged about the Bills during some of their choicest years of futility. The Bills had a losing record in the first seven of those nine years, were no better than 9-7 in any single season, and had a cumulative record of 59-85 in that stretch.

Then I left, and the team turned things around. I returned prior to the Bills’ Week 4 game this past October. That makes today’s Bills-Dolphins game the first playoff game that I have covered here at Buffalo Rumblings.

I’m so thoroughly looking forward to the opportunity that I felt compelled to take you on a (not-so) brief, highly thorough trip back in time to talk about the seven Bills playoff games I missed along the way — and how each helped shape this year’s Bills into who they are today.

Sunday, January 7, 2018: Jacksonville Jaguars 10, Buffalo Bills 3

  • Where I was: I honestly don’t remember where I watched this game. I will obviously forever remember where I was the weekend before, when the Bills ended their playoff drought, and I’m certain I’m not alone there. I did not yet have children, but I honestly can’t remember if I watched this game at home with my wife, or at my parents’ house with my dad. It was probably one of those two, though. I’ll chalk my lack of memory up to this contest being the opposite of a memorable affair.
  • The lasting image: Blake Bortles running through the Bills’ vaunted defense as if he were... well, a certain strapping young lad from Wyoming who wasn’t in the NFL yet. On a day where neither offense accomplished much of anything, Bortles ripping off 88 rushing yards on 10 carries was the biggest difference of the game. He had 20 of those rushing yards on the Jaguars’ game-winning drive in the third quarter.
  • The lasting feeling: Helplessness. The game ended after quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who completed a mere 46% of his passes in this game and was somehow still Buffalo’s best hope at winning, was injured late and replaced by then-rookie Nathan Peterman. If you’ve blocked out what happened thereafter, it will not shock you to re-learn that Peterman threw a game-clinching interception. Watching a Bills playoff game was nice; still needing a quarterback was not. It should be noted, however, that the feeling of helplessness started to abate 110 days later, when the Bills drafted quarterback Josh Allen with the seventh overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Saturday, January 4, 2020: Houston Texans 22, Buffalo Bills 19 (OT)

  • Where I was: I started the day at a car dealership, getting a popped tire repaired. I ended it in my basement, with my 13-month-old daughter totting around, watching Bill O’Brien and his weird chin smugly advance to his upcoming divisional-round meltdown.
  • The lasting image: There are several, all involving Allen: his Smoke Brown touchdown dance after capping off the opening drive with a receiving score from Brown; his, ahem, ill-advised lateral late in the game; and a baby-faced No. 17 sitting on the bench having just seen the Texans kick their game-winning field goal in overtime.
  • The lasting feeling: As frustrating as that game was, having blown a 13-0 lead, I mostly felt encouraged. That Bills team was not completely done being built, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, and it had shown. And yet despite some of the hair-pulling plays, Allen had kept the team competitive in his first playoff game, and had clearly left it all out on the field. That last part has become a hallmark of his play during his transcendent growth into an elite player.

Saturday, January 9, 2021: Buffalo Bills 27, Indianapolis Colts 24

  • Where I was: At my buddy’s house, with the wives and the kids. He’d just installed a projector with a massive screen in his basement, we’d all been cooped up for 10 months due to COVID-19, and after a week of rigorous testing, we went over to his place so that he could show off. And, to his immense credit, it’s still the best way I’ve watched a Bills game that didn’t involve being physically present in Orchard Park, NY.
  • The lasting image: The many, many toe-tapping grabs along the sideline reeled in by Stefon Diggs and, especially, Gabe Davis in his first career playoff game. Allen escaped the pocket to the left and to the right with equal success in this one, but if Davis and Diggs weren’t able to haul in those beautiful sideline catches, this close game might have had a much different outcome. (That dude weeping in the stands after the game ended is a very close second.)
  • The lasting feeling: This was Allen’s second playoff game, and the first since his crazy play in Houston, and his performance (26-of-35, 324 yards, 54 rushing yards, three total touchdowns, no turnovers) was the true difference between winning and losing this game. We knew Allen was a fierce competitor; after a stellar regular season, this confirmed that Allen could be a clutch playoff performer, as well.

Saturday, January 16, 2021: Buffalo Bills 17, Baltimore Ravens 3

  • Where I was: At home, watching with my wife, with my now two-year-old daughter sleeping maybe 30 feet down the hall. I’m still not sure how I didn’t wake her up that night.
  • The lasting image: Actually, I take that back; I am keenly aware of how I didn’t wake my kid up that night. The only play qualifying in this game as something to go nuts for was, of course, the Taron Johnson pick-six — and you bet it got me out of my seat. Rather than make noise, however, I silent-screamed and went into a full Fred Jackson-style Hulk movement that, I will swear until the day I die, strained absolutely every muscle in my dad bod. I watched the rest of this win in agony.
  • The lasting feeling: I don’t recall if it was immediately after the game ended, or the following morning, when I texted Matt Warren and told him the Bills were going to the Super Bowl. He agreed. We were obviously premature, but that’s what I remember feeling after the Bills beat the Ravens: that we could finally dream big, and not feel insane doing so.

Sunday, January 24, 2021: Kansas City Chiefs 38, Buffalo Bills 24

  • Where I was: Home again. The kiddo was awake for a good chunk of it this time, thanks to the earlier kickoff, which helped as I did a good amount of angst-venting.
  • The lasting image: Diggs, alternating between arms akimbo and hands on his head, standing alone on the field while the Chiefs hoisted the Lamar Hunt Trophy as conference champions. McDermott coming out to join him on the field and share some private words, before leaving the field of play and, metaphorically, concluding the season.
  • The lasting feeling: Buffalo had made so much progress as a team in 2020, but to fall so short in a not-as-close-as-it-looks championship game hurt a lot. This was no longer a team on the rise; they’d arrived, and we could fairly safely guess which team would represent their final hurdle.

Saturday, January 15, 2022: Buffalo Bills 47, New England Patriots 17

  • Where I was: Home again, kid asleep again, and it was a lot harder to stay quiet for this time. I did succeed, but only barely.
  • The lasting image: There are so many to choose from that took place on the field of play, but for me, seeing a bare-chested Ryan Fitzpatrick sitting among his people, watching the annihilation taking place and thoroughly enjoying it alongside us, is the stuff of legend.
  • The lasting feeling: The sky’s the limit. Allen had just played as perfect a game as could be reasonably expected from a quarterback, absolutely shredding a Bill Belichick defense on live television and providing the entire football-watching universe outside of Massachusetts a heaping helping of schadenfreude. The Bills felt invincible on this night.

Sunday, January 23, 2022: Kansas City Chiefs 42, Buffalo Bills 36 (OT)

  • Where I was: Couch-bound. Laser-focused. Kid stayed asleep once she went to bed; don’t ask me how.
  • The lasting image: Every play Allen made with his legs, and all four of Davis’ touchdown receptions. The last one, in particular, sent my legs into some sort of horizontal tap-dance that alarmed my wife, and that I will surely never again replicate. Then some static, and then a stone-faced Allen on the sidelines again.
  • The lasting feeling: Now we knew what we suspected the previous January. The Bills were squarely in their (first?) championship window, and the Chiefs were the team standing in their way.

There are other teams capable of beating Buffalo in this year’s playoff field, perhaps even including a banged-up but still-talented Dolphins squad, but a playoff rematch with Kansas City has felt inevitable since last year’s Bills-Chiefs playoff game concluded. The Bills start down that path today against Miami.