Bills advances to AFC Championship with 17-3 win over Ravens

ORCHARD PARK, NY — In what was supposed to be a showdown between Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Taron Johnson literally stole the show.

Without the wall separating the field from the stands at the back of the East End zone, the Bills cornerback could still run after a 101-yard interception for a touchdown that propelled Buffalo to its first AFC championship game in 27 years.

Johnson’s pick-6 from Jackson’s pass with 41 seconds left in the third quarter helped clinch a 17-3 victory over the Ravens in a division-round playoff game on Saturday night.

“We’re excited. It’s not ready, we’re not ready,” Johnson exclaimed. “It’s just a blessing. Our defense rose to the challenge.”

Johnson’s return marked the longest in NFL history and marked the culmination of a stellar defensive outing that saw Buffalo (15-3) limit the NFL’s top running offense to 150 yards on 32 carries.

Jackson, last season’s NFL MVP, was fired three times and did not return after suffering a concussion after the final game of the third quarter, and two plays after Johnson scored. He finished 14 of 24 for 162 yards passing while he was limited to 42 yards rushing on nine carries.

Allen, an MVP candidate this year, finished 23 of 37 for 206 yards and a touchdown.

In a season when the Bills relied primarily on their dynamic Allen-led offense to take down opponents, the third-year quarterback was delighted to see Buffalo’s defense making the difference in a game where pass-happy offense was largely the result. was kept in check.

“I can’t say enough words for what that game was like for our defense,” said Allen. “Taron Johnson’s is a play people will remember for a long time here in Buffalo, possibly a franchise-changing play.”

The Bills advanced to the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1994 en route to making — and losing — their four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Buffalo also extended a season in which it broke numerous droughts by claiming its first AFC East division title in 25 years and, with last week’s win over Indianapolis, winning its first game after the season since the same year.

The Bills have won eight in a row to equal their best run since 1990, playing the winner of the AFC’s other division playoff between Cleveland and Kansas City on Sunday.

The fifth-seeded Ravens (12-6) ended their season after leading the NFL in yards rushing for the second straight year.

Baltimore achieved its third playoff finish in three years by winning the last five games in the regular season. The winning streak came after a 1-4 slip capped by a 19-14 loss in Pittsburgh on Dec. 2 in a game that was rescheduled three times due to COVID-19 issues.

“It’s a sad moment, but this team has been through a lot,” said tight end Mark Andrew. “It’s hard now, but teammates and coaches and camaraderie, it was a group of special guys who worked hard, came to work every day and didn’t take anything for granted. We’re going to hold our heads high and come back and work.”

Tied at 3 after the first half, the Bills took control in the third quarter.

Buffalo advanced 10-3 on Allen’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to finish an 11-play, 66-yard opening drive.

The Ravens threatened to answer on their next drive, which ended with Johnson’s interception. With Baltimore facing the third goal of the 9, Johnson jumped for the pass intended for Andrews and took off from the right. He followed teammate Tre’Davious White, who ensured that Jackson had no corner to push Johnson beyond the limits.

Johnson, who also intercepted for a score in a 26-15 win over Pittsburgh on Dec. 13, said he initially thought about going down after catching the ball before seeing anyone in front of him.

“I caught the ball and looked down a bit, but then I looked up and saw a whole bunch of green grass on that side of me,” he said. “At that point, there’s one person I have to beat. And that’s No. 8 (Jackson).”

Johnson’s interception return matched the Packers’ INT return defending George Teague’s defense in Green Bay’s 28-24 win over Detroit in a wildcard playoff on January 8, 1994.

Two snaps later, things got worse for Baltimore, when Jackson was forced out of the game.

Facing second and 10 on Baltimore’s 25, center Patrick Mekari snapped the ball over Jackson’s head. The quarterback turned and chased the bouncing ball into the 5, then turned and quickly tossed it away when Tremaine Edmunds had him by the feet and Trent Murphy fell on top of him.

Jackson’s injury forced Tyler Huntley to finish the game after being promoted from the practice squad.

“I’m not frustrated at all,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said when he announced that Jackson had suffered a concussion. “The players are disappointed. It’s hard to lose a game. Our guys played like crazy, and if you don’t win the game, you’re going to feel it.”

MISSING KICKS

Gusts of wind wreaked havoc on the kickers.

Baltimore’s most accurate kicker’s Justin Tucker, the NFL’s most accurate kicker, hit the left upright from 41 yards and the right upright from 46 yards, before hitting a try from 34 yards. It was the first time he had missed twice from within 50 yards in the same game.

Buffalo rookie Tyler Bass missed two of three field goals – a 43-yarder who went wide in the second quarter and a 44-yarder who sailed wide to the left with 5:30 to go.

PRACTICE TO PLAYOFFS

Huntley, who had attempted just five passes in two appearances this season, finished 6 of 13 for 60 yards on three drives, the last two in which Baltimore turned the ball on downs.

NEXT ONE

Raven: Season over.

Bills: Advance to the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1994, where they will face Cleveland or Kansas City for the second time this season after a 26-17 loss to the Chiefs on October 19.

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