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Playoff mentality fuels the Bills' five-game win streak and trip to the AFC Divisional Round

Mitch Morse (60) Buffalo Bills vs New England Patriots - Wild Card Playoff game at Highmark Stadium, January 15, 2022. Photo by Craig Melvin
Mitch Morse (60) Buffalo Bills vs New England Patriots - Wild Card Playoff game at Highmark Stadium, January 15, 2022. Photo by Craig Melvin

The Bills beat the Patriots 47-17 in what was their first playoff matchup of the Super Bowl era. But for the Bills, this playoff mentality didn't just start this week. It started four weeks ago. 

"At this point in time, we got to go 1-0 each week and it starts, this next week," Bills quarterback Josh Allen said after the overtime loss to the Buccaneers in Week 14. 

And that's exactly what the Bills have done since that point. Their next four regular-season games turned into playoffs games, with the Bills needing to win out to clinch their second consecutive division title and at least one home playoff game. 

That urgency and shift into playoff mode late into the regular season pushed this team to be their best every single week. The Bills were playing some of their best and most complete football down the stretch. Since halftime of the Tampa Bay game, the Bills have outscored the opposition, 191-79.

On offense, that started with the running game. Through the bulk of the season, (Wk. 1-14) the Bills ranked 15th in the league with 121 rushing yards per game. Once that playoff mentality kicked in, (Wk. 15-18) the Bills shot up to second in the league with 159 rushing yards a game. The resurgence of the running game helped balance out the Bills' offense and got them into a more consistent rhythm. 

Against the Patriots on Saturday, the Bills had 174 rushing yards which came from Allen, Devin Singletary, and Isaiah McKenzie. But it hasn't all been on the rushers, the offensive line has been playing better as a unit since late in the regular season. Since Week 16, Josh Allen hasn't been sacked once and had ten seconds to throw his first touchdown pass of the night. 

The playoff mentality this team has had for the past few weeks not only has made it feel like a win-or-go situation, but it's allowed the team to really dissect the little things and improve on them. 

"Every week is different, and every game plan is different," Bills center Mitch Morse said after the game. "In the playoffs, it's easy to say it's a one-week season, but I think we've kind of adopted that mindset the last half of the season, especially the last quarter of it. And when you don't look too far ahead and learn from your mistakes from the past because you don't linger on them, you put yourself in a position to learn and keep getting better."

Down the stretch, the Bills offense increased both their points per game and first downs per game by three. Even though that might not seem like much, those small improvements the team made helped them have a dominant performance against the Patriots. On Saturday, the Bills scored 47 points which are the second-most points scored in a Bills playoff game and had 29 first downs which are tied for second-most in a Bills playoff game.

The Bills defense – who finished number one in several statistical categories in the regular season – also stepped up their game in the last five weeks and put on a show on Saturday. The biggest boost for the defense has been their the sack totals. The unit started the season ranked 28th in the league with 23 sacks in 13 games. In the last four weeks, the Bills' defense racked up 19 sacks which are the most in that time span.

In the first two regular season matchups against New England, Buffalo had one sack and four QB hits combined. On Saturday, the Bills sacked Mac Jones three times and had five QB hits. The Bills' defense made him uncomfortable and made it so he couldn't keep up with the Bills' red-hot offense.

The Bills top-ranked defense continued to find ways to get better as the games became more important and they will work to keep that mentality going throughout the postseason.

"I think every game is different," Bills All-Pro safety Jordan Poyer said. "Those are good football teams we played at the end of the year, who were hungry for some wins. So, a couple of areas we didn't execute as well as we wanted to, but like Micah (Hyde) said, that momentum that we've been playing with the last couple of weeks has just been carrying over week after week after week, and we were prepared this week. We came out there and executed at a high level and played complimentary football."

The biggest thing for a team to do in the NFL, in order to make it all the way, is to play their best football at the right time. That's what this Bills team is doing. There were some rough patches in the regular season, but it has only made this team more battle-tested and determined to not have the taste of losing in their mouth again.

The culture that Sean McDermott has created has not only made reaching the playoffs a goal but it's now the standard. The Bills are now winners of five straight games, which is the longest win streak for the team since they won eight straight in 2020. The Bills have had momentum heading into the playoffs in two consecutive years now and McDermott believes that when you play complimentary football during the games and critically self-evaluate during the week, the momentum will start to build.

"I just think it's about a process where we're just trying to improve every week and continue to hold each other accountable," McDermott said. "I think good things happen when you do that. Momentum is a byproduct of that, that's how that works. Focus, preparation, all this stuff is what's important this time of year."

The Bills were prepared coming into their third matchup against the Patriots in 41 days. They knew this divisional opponent very well and exploited their weaknesses. A 30-point win is always impressive, but it means more in the postseason. The team had the second-largest margin of victory in Bills' playoff history. This playoff mindset the team has adopted helped get the team to where they are now, but the work isn't over. The Bills have bigger goals they want to attain and that starts by going 1-0 this week in the Divisional round.

"When you're going into every game with a win-or-go-home mentality, and that's really what we've had in the last few weeks, just the attention to detail in practice, and guys are more attentive," Allen said. "The urgency is there, and you're seeing us play better because of it. We're going to need that same mentality this upcoming week."

How Dawson Knox and Jerry Hughes made playoff history

A numbers of Bills postsesason records were set in Saturday's historic win. Two players, in particular, made history on Saturday night. 

The Bills' longest-tenured player, Jerry Hughes, has played in six playoff games for Buffalo. Against the Patriots, he got his seventh career postseason sack. He passed Darryl Talley (6.5) for third-most sacks in Bills' postseason history. Ahead of him are Jeff Wright (9.0) and Bruce Smith (14.5). Hughes became the first Bill with a three-game playoff sack streak since Bruce Smith's club-record 5-game streak in 1993-94.

Bills tight end Dawson Knox also made not only Bills franchise history but also NFL history. Knox had some incredible grabs Saturday and finished the game with a team-high five receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those touchdowns came in the first quarter, making him the first tight end in NFL history with two receiving touchdowns in the first quarter of a playoff game. Knox also has the most touchdowns (4) by a tight end in Bills postseason history.

The 89 receiving yards were a new club playoff record among tight ends, breaking the old mark of 62 yards set by Mark Brammer (Jan. 3, 1981 at San Diego). The receptions, yards, and touchdowns were all career-highs for Knox in the playoffs.

"Oh cool," Knox said when he heard about what he accomplished Saturday night. "When you've got a quarterback like Josh and an offensive line, that's protecting like they are, your offense is able to do some special stuff."

First playoff touchdowns for multiple Bills

When a team scores 47 points, there are usually a lot of touchdowns to go around. Josh Allen set a Bills' playoff record by throwing five touchdowns in a single game. Three Bills had the first postseason touchdown of their careers. 

You can't take making the playoffs for granted and you never know when it will be your first opportunity to score a touchdown. For second-year wide receiver, Gabriel Davis, he played in his fourth career playoff game Saturday and had two receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown. 

For rookie offensive tackle, Tommy Doyle, he scored his first touchdown in his first career playoff game. He is the fourth Bill with a touchdown on his first playoff reception. He joins Paul Seymour (12/22/74 at Pit.), Mitch Frerotte (1/9/93 at Pit.) & Josh Allen (1/4/20 at Hou.). 

Now on the opposite side of that spectrum, 12-year veteran Emmanuel Sanders also caught his first career touchdown in the playoffs on Saturday. This was the 14th postseason game that Sanders has played in, and his first career playoff touchdown came on his 51st career playoff reception.

His quarterback, Josh Allen was happy for Sanders and glad he could get his first touchdown here in Buffalo.

"I'm sick for Emmanuel Sanders because he's played 100 years in this league and tonight was his first playoff touchdown," Allen said jokingly. "Tommy Doyle plays one game as an O-lineman, so sucks for him, but I'm glad E's (Emmanuel Sanders) first touchdown was with us. Again, that's just another guy though, he's had an up-and-down year with some injuries. He's just put his head down and worked. He's a vet guy, and he doesn't care how he gets the job done. … A guy that stays ready, he knows his role, he knows his job, and he makes the big play when it's there for him. I think that's just kind of the mantra of this team, guys that are just willing to do what it takes to win, and when their opportunity is there, they're going to make the play."