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How Bills Mafia, A.J. Klein and Kaiir Elam played big roles in Buffalo's Super Wild Card win over Pittsburgh


Highmark Stadium looked more like a scene out of a Hallmark Christmas movie this morning than the venue of an NFL playoff game.

Thanks to the efforts of the Buffalo Bills stadium operations staff and the fans and community members who spent hours shoveling out the stadium, the Bills hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Wild Card round — albeit a day later than originally planned — and came out with a 31-17 win and a spot in the Divisional Round next Sunday.

Take a look at Bills fans braving the elements for the Super Wildcard Weekend game against the Steelers on Jan. 15. This gallery is presented by SnapDragon Apples.

"It didn't stop snowing hard until about 4 a.m. this morning, so I thought it was an admirable effort by everyone involved to get this game ready to be played," McDermott said after the game. "I looked out my window a few times yesterday and it was hard to see. So [thank you to] everyone that was out there working hard on the public's behalf to make it safe to get to the game today."

Not only did fans spend their time preparing the stadium for playoff football, but over 70,000 fans stood in the freezing cold to cheer on a Bills team that battled through a plethora of injuries, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. With each touchdown scored by the Bills, the stadium erupted, flinging snow into the air in celebration.

"Bills Mafia showed up," McDermott said. "I know that there wasn't always a clean seat to sit on, but it didn't seem like it mattered to them. So, I applaud Bills Mafia for showing up the way that they did in the fashion that they did."

While the Bills won by two touchdowns, several key players went down with injuries over the course of the game. Cornerback Rasul Douglas, linebacker Tyrel Dodson and safety Taylor Rapp were ruled out prior to Monday's game and linebacker Terrel Bernard, nickel corner Taron Johnson, linebacker Baylon Spector and cornerback Christian Benford all exited the game with injuries.

McDermott said he was unsure of each player's status moving forward.In the wake of losing so many significant figures on the defense to injuries, players stepped up in each position.

Linebackers A.J. Klein and Dorian Williams played most of the second half as the defense held the Steelers to 10 points.

Klein was signed to the Bills practice squad a matter of days ago, after he was cut earlier this season. Ahead of the Pittsburgh game, Klein was brought up to the 53-man roster to supplement the loss of Dodson.

"He came back and put the uniform on to go out there and play. I think that's pretty special right there, so I applaud A.J. for that and it's pretty remarkable," McDermott said.

Klein led the team with 11 total tackles. For the 11-year veteran, the decision to re-sign with the Bills was an easy one.

"Who doesn't want to be in the playoffs?" Klein said. "I've been a guy that's always said, 'whatever you need me to do, I'll come back.'"

With Bernard, who typically calls the defensive plays, out, Klein took over as the mike linebacker. He said it was "just like riding a bike."

"I've been in this position before, I mean I've had the green dot for four years, so no different. I'm just glad that they called be back, it's great to be able to help this team win," Klein said.

Williams had the second-most with eight, adding a tackle for loss. The rookie from Tulane said that it felt good to be out on the field with Klein, someone he has played next to since training camp.

"I love seeing A.J. out here," Williams said. "He's like my uncle, I love A.J. He balled out today and he did his thing as expected, even though he just came off the couch playing with the kids, no drop off, he's gonna play ball."

Another player who stepped up was the Bills' 2022 first-round draft pick, cornerback Kaiir Elam. After Benford left the game, Elam responded with a game-changing play after back-to-back negative plays near the end zone. Pittsburgh tight end Pat Freiermuth, who has a good 65 pounds on the cornerback, ran through Elam's tackle attempt for a 12-yard game. Two plays later, Elam committed defensive pass interference to put the Steelers at the Buffalo 3-yard line.

However, the Steelers drive ended with an interception from Elam in the end zone, his second career interception in the playoffs. Elam himself overcame a foot injury this season, seeing his first game action since Week 7.

"Everything that I've been through has made me stronger," Elam said "So I didn't let those two plays affect me. Earlier in this season, I probably would have let things affect me, but during my whole story, I've just been growing mentally stronger. … I just want to thank God and my teammates for never allowing me to give up."

His teammates expressed their appreciation for the clutch play.

"It was huge, he had a penalty right before that. Learn from it, come back, didn't let it hold him down and didn't get in his feelings or anything like that, he went out and made a play for us, that was huge," said safety Micah Hyde.

Check out the Bills celebration photos on the field and in the locker room following a 31-17 win over Pittsburgh.