ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — By batting down Philip Rivers’ desperation pass as time ran out to secure Buffalo’s first playoff victory in 25 years, safety Micah Hyde and the defense pushed its bend-but-don’t-break reputation to its limits.
It wasn’t pretty, nor easy, Hyde acknowledged, noting how he sensed a tinge of lingering nerves among his teammates upon entering the celebratory locker room following the 27-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC wild-card playoff on Saturday.
And he was among the first to acknowledge the Bills have plenty to clean up, even before learning Buffalo’s divisional-round opponent will be Lamar Jackson and the run-happy Baltimore Ravens (12-5) following their 20-13 win at Tennessee on Sunday.
“There’s still a lot of stuff we have to work on and that’s weird to say after winning a playoff game,” Hyde said. “But that’s the truth.”
The Bills’ defense hasn’t been the reliable and sturdy unit it was in finishing among the NFL’s top three in fewest yards allowed the previous two seasons. Buffalo (14-3) has at times struggled against the run, had difficulty getting stops on third down, and walked a perilous line by allowing opponents to mount fourth-quarter comebacks.
It happened in a 35-32 win in Week 2 over the Rams, in which Los Angeles pulled ahead by rallying from a 28-3 deficit. Josh Allen bailed out the Bills with a 3-yard TD pass to Dawson Knox with 15 seconds left. The Bills were in jeopardy of losing to New England in Week 8 before backup defensive lineman Justin Zimmer stripped Cam Newton of the ball at Buffalo’s 14 with 31 seconds left to seal a 24-21 win.
And the most egregious example came on Nov. 15 in a 32-30 loss at Arizona, which DeAndre Hopkins sealed with a leaping 43-yard touchdown catch with 2 seconds remaining. Buffalo has won seven straight since.
The memory wasn’t lost on Hyde, one of three Bills defenders surrounding Arizona’s Hopkins, as Rivers heaved a 47-yard attempt intended for T.Y. Hilton.
“I just backed up in the end zone and said, ‘Dang, no way this is happening again,’” said Hyde, who burst through a crowd of bodies to bat down the ball with two hands. “I wish I would’ve done that in AZ, but hey, you learn something.”
The Bills’ defense held in a game the Colts enjoyed an eight-plus minute edge in time of possession, crossed midfield on all nine drives except for a kneel-down to end the first half, and generated 472 yards offense — the most by a losing team that didn’t commit a turnover in NFL playoff history.
To Buffalo’s credit, the defense stood its ground by limiting the Colts to two touchdowns on five trips inside the Bills 20.
The turning point came late in the first half, when the Colts turned over the ball on downs after being stopped on four snaps inside Buffalo’s 5. The offense responded with a 10-play, 96-yard drive capped by Allen’s 5-yard scamper to put the Bills up 14-10, a lead Buffalo wouldn’t relinquish.
If there’s another bright side for the Bills, their defensive deficiencies have been smoothed over by an offense that scored a single-season team-record 501 points, and extended another franchise record by scoring 24 or more points for a 10th straight outing.
The first playoff meeting of two of the five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2018 draft will feature a showdown of contrasting styles: strong-armed Allen, chosen seventh overall, and elusive Jackson, selected 32nd.
The same goes for each teams’ defensive traits.
The Bills have allowed 150 yards rushing five times already this season, four more than last year. The Ravens have combined to allow 628 yards passing in each of their past four games, including 158 to the Titans.
Complementary football. The Bills are 8-3 when allowing 21 points. Buffalo had gone a combined 8-58 from 2012-19 when allowing that many points.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Third-down stops. The Colts converted 9 of 17 third-down opportunities, marking the seventh time this season an opponent has been 50% or better.
Tyler Bass set the NFL playoff record among rookies by hitting a 54-yard fourth-quarter field goal, which was the decisive margin of victory.
RB Zack Moss and RB Devin Singletary combined for 42 yards rushing on 10 carries, and were outgained by Allen, who led the team with 54 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown.
Moss is expected to miss extensive time after being carted off with an ankle injury.
1-11 — The Bills had lost 11 straight, dating to 2016, when held to 26 or fewer minutes in time of possession before finishing with 25:43 against the Colts.
The Bills have lost three straight and are 3-6 overall vs. the Ravens, who they are facing for the first time in the playoffs.
By JOHN WAWROW