When the lights are brightest — or in this case, when the snow is most blinding — Josh Allen possesses the vision to guide his Bills to victory.
On the heels of a rocky back-half of the season and a similarly tough stretch in the third quarter, Allen led Buffalo back from a 29-21 fourth-quarter deficit on scoring drives of 75 and 86 yards to down the Miami Dolphins, 32-29, and clinch a playoff berth. By night’s end he had thrown for 304 yards and four touchdowns while leading the team in rushing with 77 yards and a crucial two-point conversion to definitively reassert the Bills as the AFC’s team to beat.
“That’s the number one thing Coach McDermott preaches is playoff caliber,” Allen told reporters after the game. “Can’t win the Super Bowl unless you make the playoffs. So that’s goal number one down. Goal number two now is to clinch the division. That’s how we’ll take it. We’ll take it one game at a time. Be ready for next week.”
Allen’s performance was more than playoff-caliber. It was a prime-time evisceration of the notion that the 11-3 Bills might not be as dangerous as originally thought back in September — a storyline that is actually complimentary of Buffalo’s perceived ceiling considering the Bills are already plenty dangerous sitting in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed.
Still, Saturday night’s performance was much needed for Allen, who had been slumping in the seven games since the Bills’ Week 7 bye, completing just 60.6% of his passes for 224 yards per game, nine passing TDs and seven INTs. And although he continued to be a threat with his legs during that stretch, running for 371 yards and four scores, he also fumbled five times and lost two.
Many of those errors occurred when Allen pressed for results that weren’t there. He did so on one notable play again Saturday, but the result was a magical reminder of the difference Allen can make when improvising.
On a first-and-goal from the 4 with eight seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Bills QB took the snap likely looking for a quick strike to either score or leave enough time for a field goal attempt. Instead, he was flushed out right, took the ball all the way to the sideline and fired back across his body to a tightly covered James Cook with no time remaining.
It was miraculous, it was ill-advised, and it made the score 21-13 at half.
“It’s either a really good play or a really stupid play,” Allen said. “I’m just thankful he came back to the ball and made a play on it. I threw it and in my head I’m like, ‘I know I wasted too much time. There’s zero seconds on the clock.’ And I just kind of slid on the ground, and I just laid there and waited for cheers. And thank God cheers came. You got to have points before the half. I shouldn’t have put myself in that situation, but again, found a way to make a play.”
Bills coach Sean McDermott agreed with Allen’s postgame assessment of the play, telling reporters, “Yeah, the end of the first half was big. Run it down to zero on the clock and throw a touchdown. He’s lucky he threw a touchdown pass right there, or else I would have probably flattened his tires maybe after the game. But he’ll learn from that one, and maybe I’ll learn a little bit from it, too.”
Although the tires did show unexpected wear in the second half, as the Bills punted on four straight possessions and saw a fifth end on an Allen fumble while the Dolphins took the lead with third-quarter touchdowns to Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill, Buffalo somehow found new tread once the skies opened and heaped snow on Highmark Stadium.
On the game-tying drive that started with 11:56 remaining in the game, Allen switched the field, rumbling 44 yards on a QB draw from Buffalo’s 43-yard line to Miami’s 13. Four plays later he found tight end Dawson Knox for a five-yard TD. He capped off the possession by going nearly parallel to the ground, leaping over the pile on another designed run and stretching the ball across the line for a game-tying two-pointer just before it was knocked free.
After the Bills D held strong, Allen and the offense held the ball for the remaining five minutes and 56 seconds. 15 plays later, they closed the game on a 25-yard Tyler Bass field goal to thwart Miami’s attempt at a season sweep.
“That’s a really good football team,” Allen said regarding the Dolphins. “Who knows if we’ll see them again. I’m pretty positive we will. That third quarter is not where we want to be, but again, that fourth quarter, guys made plays, stepped up, found a way to win.”
Finding a way to win has become a theme for Buffalo’s season, and whether it’s the Dolphins again or someone else, few teams may have the firepower to topple Allen’s Bills come playoff time.