The Buffalo Bills have what it takes to win it all.
Saturday night’s 17-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens sent the Bills to their first AFC Championship Game in 27 years.
Sean McDermott’s team hasn’t lost a game in more than two months. They have won eight straight games. They are 15-3 overall this season.
And the oddly deafening roar generated by 6,700 long-suffering fans inside Bills Stadium in Orchard Park reflected just how real this run in upstate New York feels.
“We’re not done yet,” Bills corner Taron Johnson told reporters after the win. “We’re trying to get to the big show.”
The Bills’ defense, coordinated by Leslie Frazier, smothered Lamar Jackson’s offense and got help from two uncharacteristic missed field goals from Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker.
Johnson’s 101-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second half was the dagger, followed by Jackson’s departure with a concussion in the fourth quarter.
Defensive end Jerry Hughes added two sacks and three quarterback hurries.
This was great timing for Frazier, 61, who will interview Sunday for the Houston Texans’ head coaching vacancy fresh off holding the NFL’s 2019 MVP to three points in a playoff game.
On the flip side, the Los Angeles Chargers must wait if they wish to hire Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to be their next head coach. Daboll, 45, and the Bills have unfinished business first, though.
The future can wait.
QB Josh Allen’s offense was held in check most of the night by a Ravens defense that had been one of the hottest in the league, coordinated by Baltimore’s Don “Wink” Martindale.
The Ravens actually outgained the Bills, 340 yards to 220. And Allen missed a wide open Stefon Diggs (eight catches, 106 yards, TD) on what would have been a long first-half TD pass.
But the third-year quarterback didn’t turn the ball over, and was partially fortunate to do so, with left tackle Dion Dawkins falling on Allen’s only fumble in the second quarter.
Allen’s offense obviously will need to be more explosive in the AFC Championship Game, especially if the Bills have to travel to take on Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
Kansas City’s defense is nothing like Baltimore’s, though, and Daboll’s aggressive pass-heavy approach gives Allen every opportunity to maximize his arm, escapability and mobility.
In Saturday’s win, the Bills actually became the only team in the last 60 NFL postseasons to have zero rushing attempts in the first quarter of a playoff game.
Bills GM Brandon Beane has done a marvelous job assembling a team with a unique combination of skill and toughness. He drafted a quarterback who took a meteoric leap in his third year and has the whole team and city believing.
He traded for Diggs, a true No. 1 who led the NFL this season with 1,535 receiving yards.
And McDermott has created clear buy-in to the Bills’ program.
Their 27-24 Wild Card round win over the Indianapolis Colts was the first Bills’ playoff win in 25 years. Now they’re headed to their first AFC Championship Game since Jan. 23, 1994, a 30-13 win over the Chiefs behind Bills quarterback Jim Kelly that took the team to its fourth straight Super Bowl.
If the Browns beat the Chiefs on Sunday, the Bills will actually get to host the AFC title game. If the Chiefs advance, the Bills will pack their bags to visit the reigning Super Bowl champions in a rematch of that game 27 years ago.
Either way, though, Buffalo is buzzing. And it’s not just because they’ve won a couple playoff games. They have a real chance to win two more.