The Buffalo Bills finally found a quarterback to lead them to the playoffs—Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
The Bills entered Sunday needing something stunning to happen to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999. First, they needed to end their season with a win against the Dolphins. And they also needed either the Ravens to lose, or both the Chargers and Titans to lose. The Ravens, Chargers, and Titans were all playing at home against teams they had already beaten this season. According to betting odds, the Bills’ win against the Dolphins was the least likely of the four results.
And yet, for the first time in Bills history, everything seemed to be working out. With the Dolphins giving backup quarterback David Fales the first significant snaps of his four-year NFL career, Buffalo was comfortably whooping Miami enough to give defensive tackle Kyle Williams a carry from the goal line, resulting in his first career touchdown.
BE STILL MY HEART! #Bills Kyle Williams TD! #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/QbZUE7UYRn— Greg Vorse (@GregVorse) December 31, 2017
That score put the Bills up 19-0, and after trading field goals with the Dolphins, Buffalo took a 22-3 lead with just 11 minutes remaining. And then, the Bills proceeded to almost blow it. The Dolphins scored back-to-back touchdowns to cut the Bills’ lead to six, and then recovered an onside kick with under two minutes left. (It was the fourth recovered onside kick for the Dolphins this year—an NFL record, so far as anybody can tell! Congrats Dolphins!) Miami got the ball into Buffalo territory trailing by six with under a minute to go.
At that point, for the billionth time in Bills history, nothing was working out: Buffalo was on the verge of blowing a 19-point lead in seven minutes, against one of the worst offenses in the NFL, to get eliminated from the playoffs. Luckily, the Dolphins were still playing some dude named “David Fales.” Sure enough, he Faled.
Jordan Poyer ices it. Third-straight game with an interception. #Bills pic.twitter.com/AEOEz0nEav— Nick Wojton (@Nick_Wojton) January 1, 2018
Job one accomplished. But the Chargers and Titans both won, leaving the Bills dependent on the Ravens—eight-point favorites—to screw up against the Bengals.
Imagine the hopelessness: You’ve rooted for the Buffalo Bills your whole life, and now, in their most pivotal moment, you additionally have to root for Andy Dalton and the Bengals.
But holy hell, Dalton managed to finish it. Facing fourth-and-12, against a defense that only allowed 15 passing touchdowns in its first 15 games, Dalton and Tyler Boyd hooked up for a game-winning score.
THE @BENGALS!— NFL (@NFL) January 1, 2018
WOW. #Bengals50 pic.twitter.com/NB78jk9U2a
The Bengals won 31-27, and this is how the longest postseason drought in the four major American sports ended: with a player on another team improbably winning a game his team didn’t really need to win.
Among the teams that still had playoff hopes entering Sunday, the Bills had been the least likely team to make the playoffs, and the Ravens had been the most likely. That all flipped in a few hours:
Calling it a roller coaster might not do this one justice. pic.twitter.com/OvHPSW4b7s— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 1, 2018
Congratulations to the Bills and all their fans on their first playoff appearance of the millennium. Try to break tables responsibly, if such a thing is possible.