1. Allen-Diggs combo delivers
The offense started off slow and had trouble finishing drives with points, but they finally found some rhythm in the second half and Buffalo's offensive leaders delivered.
Josh Allen, who has been the tip of the spear for the Bills offense all season, found his most popular target this season on two game-changing plays through the air for Buffalo.
On the first touchdown drive by the Bills, Allen found Diggs deep down the middle for a 36-yard pick up to move Buffalo deep into Indianapolis territory. Five plays later Allen was shoveling a push pass to Dawson Knox for a touchdown.
After Allen ran a touchdown in himself at the close of the first half to give Buffalo a 14-10 at the break, he and Diggs would hook up again early in the fourth quarter.
Facing a 2nd-and-4 at the Colts 35 following a long timeout for an injury, Allen finally got offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to give him the shot play he had been requesting for a good portion of the game.
"I had been begging for Dabes to call that play for a while, and he called it for the perfect opportunity, the perfect situation," said Allen. "Prior to the snap I actually got out of it. I switched it to a different play, then they kind of went back and it gave us the right look again and we got back into it so good job communicating by our guys understanding their roles and Stef did the rest."
Diggs ran a stop and go route straight to the end zone, but his hesitation forced TJ Carrie to hold up and Buffalo's top wideout had gained the step he needed. Allen fired the ball behind Carrie's back and Diggs pulled it in for a 35-yard touchdown to make it 24-10 Buffalo early in the fourth quarter.
"He saw it all the way in," said Allen of Diggs. "He did a good job with late hands there. Really good receivers don't like to tell the DB when the ball is coming so he just kind of got to the area he wanted to get to and put his hands up the last second and made a hell of a play."
Diggs finished the game with 128 yards receiving and a touchdown on six receptions and delivered three of the four longest plays from scrimmage for Buffalo (36, 35, 21). He's the first Bills receiver to go over 100 yards in a playoff game since Eric Moulds' record-setting 240-yard day against Miami on Jan. 2, 1999.
Meanwhile Allen surpassed 300 yards passing with his 324-yard day marking just the fifth time that a Bills QB has had a 300-yard passing performance. His 300-yard day was the first since Doug Flutie had 360 in that same Miami Wild Card game in '99.
Even when the Bills weren't at their best, the balance of the team feels like they can rely on Allen and Diggs.
"Those guys throughout the year have made great plays in clutch situations," said Mitch Morse. "They didn't miss a beat this week. Those guys put a lot on themselves to make and I thought they did an exceptional job of when the time was needed in those big moments in the game they did that. That's just what you look for in playmakers and very happy to have them on our team."
2. Defense makes timely plays
They had an awfully tough time with wily veteran QB Philip Rivers and his three tight ends, who combined for 14 receptions for 136 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion, but when plays absolutely had to be made, the defense came up big.
Trailing 10-7 with about three minutes remaining in the first half, Buffalo's defense was staring at the likelihood of surrendering more points. The Colts had a 1st-and-goal situation at the Bills four-yard line.
After stopping a short reception by TE Trey Burton for two yards and a direct snap carry by Nyheim Hines for a yard, it brought up 3rd-and-goal from the one.
Indianapolis chose to run a pitch play to Jonathan Taylor to the left side of their formation. But Taron Johnson got the edge before Taylor, wrapped him up behind the line of scrimmage and waited for help to arrive to drop him for a three-yard loss.
Facing 4th-and-goal from the four-yard line, the Colts chose to go for it. Vernon Butler and Mario Addison got just enough pressure on Philip Rivers after the snap forcing a hurried throw to the end zone that was just out of reach of Michael Pittman landing incomplete.
Instead of increasing their lead to 13-7 with a field goal or 17-7 with a touchdown, the Colts came up empty.
"We always say bend but don't break in the red zone," said Jordan Poyer. "They drove the field on us on a couple of drives, but we were able to hold our own in the red zone. So to have that fourth-and-goal and stop them was big."
Buffalo's offense then took the turnover on downs 96 yards the other way for a touchdown drive, leading to a 14-point swing on the scoreboard. The Bills never trailed again in the game.
"I think the turning point of the game was that 4th-and-goal stop by our defense," said Josh Allen. "Then our offense driving down right before the half getting the chance to double dip there. We got a touchdown and I know we got a field goal coming out halftime too."
Then late in the game with the Colts down three points and driving, Philip Rivers, on what would be the last play of the game, heaved a pass to the end zone, but Buffalo was prepared for the Hail Mary attempt as Micah Hyde successfully out jumped everyone on the field to knock the ball down for an incompletion to end the game and preserve the victory.
"Our defense, I thought at the end really stood up," said head coach Sean McDermott. "That's a tough, tough situation at the end of the game where unfortunately we had the sack on offense. I thought we had momentum and a chance to go up, maybe six or 10 at that point. I thought our defense stood up and in a tough situation against a Hall of Fame quarterback. It was good to see. I thought our guys really showed a lot of guts."
3. Fans make difference in Bills first playoff win
There may have only been 6,700, but the fans in the stands, for the first time in 2020 season, made their presence felt on Saturday. Socially distanced in the 100 and 200 levels, the fans were loud enough at times to force Philip Rivers to walk up to his linemen when in the shotgun to communicate pre-snap.
The noise they provided in the final seconds of the game proved helpful to a defense that was the victim of a bad call on what looked to be a fumble.
"Remarkably loud," said Mitch Morse of the noise level Bills fans accomplished Saturday afternoon. "I'm very proud of our fans, especially when things weren't going right. They could have booed us, but they didn't. It's very heartwarming. They stayed patient and their impact was definitely felt. Even with the limited capacity home field advantage definitely made a difference."
It proved to be a special day for fans, who for the first time this season not only saw their team that put together a 13-3 regular season, but also witnessed the first home playoff victory since 1995.
"It was great. They showed a lot of love and gave us a lot of energy," said Gabriel Davis, who experienced Bills Mafia for the first time. "Just with how vocal they were. We definitely heard them. I'm glad we could finally have them there and I hope we can do it again."