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Bills’ big defensive night is key to win over Ravens

January 17th, 2021

The Buffalo Bills were fantastic on defense last season. They were second in the NFL in points allowed and third in yards allowed. Most of that unit returned for 2020.

The results weren’t the same. The Bills dropped to the middle of the pack on defense but it didn’t really matter because Josh Allen and the offense were so good.

When the Bills’ offense found itself stuck in a windstorm for a divisional playoff game on Saturday night, the defense showed up.

Buffalo’s defense did a great job containing Lamar Jackson and came up with the game-changing play, a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown by Taron Johnson, in a 17-3 win. The weather made it tough on both offenses, and it was the Bills’ defense that took over the game. They wrecked a Ravens offense that was red-hot for the last month of the regular season.

The Bills have had a great season and will play in the AFC championship game for the first time since beating Joe Montana and the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of the 1993 season. The play of the defense on Saturday night should give Bills Mafia hope that next Sunday won’t be their last game this season.

Bills defense has a big night

Buffalo wasn’t going to change its offensive plan, just because of a little wind. They trust Allen too much to minimize him, no matter the conditions.

The Bills’ offensive gameplan was surprising in its extremity. They did not call a run play until 3:05 left in the first half, and they called 19 passes and one run those first 30 minutes. The Bills are better passing the ball, the Ravens are very good against the run, but it was still remarkable to watch a team in a playoff game not even try to run it. Especially in strong winds. The game was tied 3-3 at halftime.

But the Bills stuck with the plan. It paid off in the third quarter with a nice drive and a short touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs. The Ravens answered with a long drive of their own, but then the Bills made the play of the game.

Jackson went back to pass on third-and-goal and didn’t see Taron Johnson cheating over in his zone while he watched Jackson’s eyes. Johnson was right there to pick off Jackson and took it back 101 yards for a touchdown, tying George Teague for the record for the longest interception return in NFL postseason history.

Instead of the Ravens tying the game or at least trying a short field goal to cut Buffalo’s lead to 10-6, the Bills led 17-3. Buffalo’s offense couldn’t get much going on Saturday night, but the defense made sure that didn’t matter.

Buffalo Bills defender Jerry Hughes (55) sacks Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8). (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Lamar Jackson suffers a concussion

On the drive after the interception, the Ravens’ chances to win disappeared. There was a bad shotgun snap, Jackson chased it down and as he was throwing it away, he got hit hard and his head bounced on the turf. Jackson was diagnosed with a concussion, and without Jackson, the Ravens weren’t going to come back.

Jackson had a rough night before that hit. The Bills did a great job being disciplined on their pass rush and not letting Jackson break contain. When Jackson did try to run, they made sure to hit him hard. Jackson never got loose for any long runs and couldn’t sustain many drives with his legs on shorter runs either. Jackson didn’t throw it that poorly given the conditions, but his one big mistake crushed the Ravens’ hopes.

The Bills could host the AFC championship game next weekend if the Cleveland Browns upset the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. If the Chiefs win, the Bills will face Patrick Mahomes at Kansas City with a Super Bowl berth on the line. The Bills haven’t been to a Super Bowl since Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and those great Buffalo teams of the 1990s lost their fourth Super Bowl in a row.

If it’s the Chiefs in the next round, that’s a tough assignment. But the Bills should feel even more confident after what they saw from their defense on Saturday night, no matter who they play next.

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