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Josh Allen’s Improvisational Skills Remain the Bills’ Biggest Weapon

Buffalo needed a few moments of individual brilliance from its quarterback to secure its first playoff win since 1995

Wild Card Round - Indianapolis Colts v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills won their first playoff game since 1995 on Saturday. It wasn’t pretty. There were penalties and fumbles and enough replay reviews to make Christopher Nolan check his watch. But the Bills escaped with the 27-24 win largely because of the brilliance of quarterback Josh Allen, who is quickly becoming one of the most beloved athletes in the NFL.

“It doesn’t matter how it looks,” Josh Allen told CBS’s Evan Washburn after the game. “It’s the playoffs, it’s win or go home, and we got it done.”

It didn’t look like the Bills were going to get anything done in the first half. Their opening drives began at the 3-, 15-, 11-, 6-, and 4-yard lines. Buffalo went three-and-out on three of their first four drives after going three-and-out at the third-lowest rate during the regular season. Indianapolis jumped to a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Then the winds in Orchard Park shifted back in Buffalo’s favor.

With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, the Colts failed to convert on fourth-and-goal. The Bills took over possession with a turnover on downs on their own 4-yard line and Allen orchestrated a 96-yard touchdown drive to take a 14-10 lead at halftime. All season long, Allen has made magic happen when he scrambles, and this drive epitomized it. He found rookie fourth-round receiver Gabriel Davis for a 37-yard gain along the right sideline to keep the drive alive. The play didn’t even seem possible—you’d be forgiven if you thought Allen was throwing the ball away at first.

Davis had one of the best toe-drag catches you’ll ever see.

Two plays later, Allen rolled out of the pocket (again) and found Davis along the sideline (again), this time along the left sideline for a 19-yard gain. Both plays required reviews long enough to reach the bottom of your Instagram timeline, but they were pretty enough that no one should complain about watching them too many times.

Once Allen began extending plays by rolling outside of the pocket, the Colts adjusted their pass rush to contain him on the edges and box him in. Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll countered that adjustment by drawing up some quarterback runs, with Allen punctuating the drive with a 5-yard rushing touchdown. The drive gave the Bills a lead that they never relinquished. It was the highlight of Allen’s day, which he finished with 324 passing yards and two touchdown passes, plus 54 rushing yards. The combination of Allen’s throwing ability, scrambling, and rushing was literally too much for Indy to contain.

Buffalo’s receivers looked great too. Stefon Diggs played in front of Bills Mafia for the first time after the team was able to allow 6,700 fans into Bills Stadium. Diggs finished with six catches for 128 yards, the best of which came on the 35-yard touchdown pass from Allen early in the fourth quarter.

The Bills offense looked good enough on Sunday, but the Colts had plenty of opportunities to win. They were stuffed on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and then Colts head coach Frank Reich opted to go for the fourth-down touchdown. The play failed, costing the Colts three points. The Colts also went for two two-point conversions in the second half and converted one. Reich will have to explain his analytically sound decision-making all offseason, but his players also failed to execute and made mental mistakes. Indianapolis kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, aka Georgia’s Glasses Kicker, doinked a 33-yard field goal for a miss. Defensive end Kemoko Turay inexplicably jumped offsides on fourth-and-3 on Buffalo’s final drive before halftime, gifting the Bills another chance that they turned into a touchdown. Indy’s game was a series of woulda, coulda, shouldas.

The Bills didn’t screw up as egregiously in similar spots. Bills kicker Tyler Bass gave the Bills their three-point margin of victory with a 54-yard field goal in the second half, the longest by a rookie in playoff history. Buffalo linebacker Matt Milano also jumped offsides in the first quarter, and Philip Rivers turned it into a 23-yard gain. But the Colts only managed a field goal on that drive whereas Buffalo’s offense turned an offsides penalty into a touchdown. Late in the fourth quarter, Allen fumbled the ball on the Bills’ final drive and lost 17 yards, but the Colts were unable to recover. The game likely would have gone to overtime if they had. The game probably still should’ve gone into overtime after the Colts’ final drive, when they caught their first break of the game. Colts receiver Zach Pascal fumbled, but after a lengthy replay, he was ruled to have been down by contact and Indy kept the ball. But the Colts still failed to get into field goal range and tie the game. It ended on a sad Hail Mary by Rivers that came up just short of the end zone—just like the Colts did in every other important aspect of the game.

The Bills won’t know their next playoff opponent until Sunday, but as the no. 2 seed they will get the second-lowest remaining seed and home-field advantage. They surely won’t want to start as slowly in their next game. Yet the Bills’ offense is a scary matchup for any defense, especially if Allen is able to create this much offense outside the pocket. What he was doing today with Davis along the sideline is unguardable. And Buffalo’s defense is strong enough that the Bills still look like a team good enough to take down the Chiefs. Buffalo started slow but also displayed moments of brilliance. More importantly, they won. And after a quarter-century out of the playoffs, that is enough.