Survive and advance. It’s been the mantra for the Buffalo Bills since their Week 13 bye week, and it continues now, as they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card round 31-17. While the Bills ultimately came away with a solid win and continue their run in the postseason, it was not a perfect day for this team.
Below we’ll take a look at the most inspired performance, an injury that leaves many Bills fans inquiring, a group of players that require a better performance, and the most irksome aspect of Monday’s game.
Inspire – Josh Allen:
This was Josh Allen’s best game in a long time. He looked calm and made some big plays, and while it wasn’t a perfect performance from him, it was a great sign of what he can do in the playoffs. Allen brought it as both a passer and a rusher, with the biggest plays coming on a 29 pass to Dalton Kincaid and a 52-yard rushing touchdown in which he simply outran the entire Pittsburgh defense. He never put the ball in harm’s way and came up big when the Bills had to have it. Even with TJ Watt out, the Steelers played tough defensively, but Allen found ways past it. When the Steelers scored to make it a one-score game, Allen took it upon himself to make plays, even checking into a passing concept in the red zone to allow Khalil Shakir to make an incredible play on his own for the game-clinching 17-yard touchdown. It may not be the gaudiest passing statistics for Allen, as he finished the day 21/30 for 203 yards and three touchdowns, but there’s no question that he was locked in and focused all day and he was the biggest reason for the Bills finding a win in the Wild Card round. His eight rushing attempts for 74 yards also kept the Bills on pace and schedule throughout the second half, in particular.
Inquire – Sam Martin:
A series of unfortunate events (not the ones chronicling Lemony Snicket) led to a Tyler Bass field goal getting blocked and Sam Martin injuring himself on the chase-down attempt. After Bass came out during halftime to try some punts, Martin came out and continued his duties as both punter and holder. One would think that this is a good sign that the Bills won’t have to make some drastic, last-minute signing to save themselves this postseason. That being said, if his injury prevents him from playing or he reaggravates it during the Divisional round against the Chiefs, it completely changes how Sean McDermott handles in-game decision-making. If you can’t punt, you have to be aggressive on fourth down or hope that Bass can do enough to not make any major issues of it. Ideally, Martin is fine and the Bills don’t have to worry about this. Contingency plans, however, have to be made, preferably when there is ample time to make those plans as opposed to scrambling to figure something out at halftime.
Require – Bills’ receivers:
While Allen had a very good day, it could have been better. Some drops, which have become far too common this year, prevented the Bills from taking full control of this game. The biggest one was immediately after the second half where Allen hit Dawson Knox on a crosser for what would have been an easy first down, but Knox simply dropped it. The Bills went three-and-out on that drive, costing them an opportunity to blow the game wide open. While other receivers like Shakir and Stefon Diggs made their plays when called on, a few drops here and there kept Buffalo from pouring it on this Steelers team. While the Bills leave with a win, it’s worth pointing out that against a stingy, disciplined Chiefs defense, the Bills can’t afford mistakes when the Chiefs leave them open.
Irk – Injuries, injuries, injuries:
In case you felt like the Bills hadn’t faced enough injuries this season, don’t worry—this game has you covered! In a season for the Bills that has been riddled with injuries since Week 4 against Miami, it finally felt like the Bills might be bringing it all together despite those injuries. Nothing, of course, is ever that simple or easy. The Bills suffered several injuries during this game to Christian Benford, Baylon Spector, and most importantly Terrel Bernard and Taron Johnson. Bernard has been the glue for this defense all season—a constant communicator, and a playmaker at the second level of this defense. Johnson, the second-team All-Pro at the nickel corner position, left with a concussion; he’s another player that this defense cannot afford to lose. For a defense that was already missing a lot of starters—and had to sit others like Rasul Douglas and Taylor Rapp for this game—it felt nearly impossible for them to find a way out of it, even against a moribund Steelers offense. While they did come away from this game making enough plays down the stretch, there is simply a point with the injuries where it becomes too much to overcome, and the Bills are rapidly approaching that zenith point.
The Bills will play next week at 6:30 PM, as they stay at home and face the Kansas City Chiefs in Orchard Park for the first time in the playoffs since Patrick Mahomes has taken over as the quarterback. It will be Mahomes’ first road playoff game and the Bills’ fourth straight Divisional-round appearance. After last year’s embarrassing loss at home against the Bengals, the Bills are likely looking to not just advance to the AFC Championship game for the first time since 2020, but also knock out the team that beat them the last time they were there.
Another Allen vs. Mahomes duel awaits. Buckle up.