The Buffalo Bills narrowly escaped the AFC Wild Card round with a 34-31 win over the Miami Dolphins.
Here's what we learned from the Bills' performance.
The Duality of Allen
Josh Allen giveth, Josh Allen taketh away.
It was one of those days from the Bills star QB as there were moments when he was superhuman and other stretches where he was mortal and uneven. He had thrown just one interception in his playoff career coming into the day; on Sunday that total jumped to three.
Allen started off on fire going 9 of 11 for 141 passing yards and a touchdown in the first quarter as the Bills opened up a 17-0 lead. But a series of mistakes by the offense, some Allen was responsible for and others where he was not, started a rockslide that almost proved catastrophic.
"Thought we did some good things today, I did some bad things today, so there's stuff to clean up and some things to learn from," the QB lamented.
In the second quarter, Allen tried to hit John Brown deep downfield on a similar play that he scored on last week, only this time Allen was off target and Dolphins CB Xavien Howard picked him off. Allen's second INT bounced off the chest of Cole Beasley who couldn't come down with the ball and it found the hands of a Dolphins' defender.
Coming out of half time, the Dolphins had a free rusher right in the face of Allen on a first down play. Allen lost control of the ball and it was scooped up by Miami for a touchdown. The Dolphins went up 24-20.
"They were playing press man, they were spying me, they were doubling Stef, I thought their front did a pretty good job, maybe blocking up some of the running lanes," Allen said.
But just as Allen had head-scratching plays, he also showed why he's still one of the best in the business late in the game. The Pro Bowler led back-to-back touchdown drives late in the third quarter, a 6-yarder to Cole Beasley and a 23-yarder to Davis.
His strike to Davis put the Bills up two scores and was a perfectly placed ball in the corner of the end zone where the WR made the tip-toe snag.
"He's been so reliable for us," Allen said of Davis. "Just giving him some opportunities to make some plays, and he came up with some big ones tonight."
Despite his uneven play, Allen set a Bills career record with four playoff 300-yard passing performances, breaking tie with Jim Kelly (3). He also joins QB Matt Ryan as the only players ever with at least 300 passing yards and three TD passes in three consecutive postseason games.
Bills D limits explosive plays, sparks turnaround with INT
The scoreboard will show that the Bills surrendered 31 points, but that isn't close to telling the whole story to how well the Buffalo defense played given some of the circumstances it was put in.
A dive into the stats, and Buffalo's defense was a strength in this game.
The Bills limited Miami to 3.3 yards per play, 231 total yards and 4 for 16 (25%) on third down conversions. Buffalo's four total sacks (two from LB Matt Milano, one from DE Boogie Basham, one from DE Ed Oliver) were its most in a playoff game since the Divisional game against Baltimore in the 2020 playoffs.
To add on, the defense forced two turnovers as CB Kaiir Elam and S Dean Marlowe intercepted Dolphins QB Skylar Thompson, who started in place of Tua Tagovailoa (concussion).
The Dolphins had just one drive with more than 50 yards gained and its top two WRs, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, were both held under 70 yards receiving. Miami tried to get the ball downfield to Waddle on several occasions, but those chances were foiled by either drops from Waddle or pass breakups from the secondary.
"I think they had one, maybe two (big plays)," McDermott said. "So just overall good job by the secondary there and keeping them in check the best we could."
Yes, the Bills defense wasn't perfect by any stretch, but Allen's turnover woes put the defense in unfavorable positions throughout the second quarter and into the third.
After Allen's first INT, the Dolphins had the ball in Bills territory at the 48-yard line. The defense held Miami to 18 yards on that drive on eight plays, resulting in a 48-yard field goal. A Bills punt followed by a big return by the Dolphins special teams unit put the ball just outside the red zone. Again, Buffalo's defensive unit kept Miami out of the end zone and forced a field goal.
Allen's second interception gave Miami the ball at the Buffalo 18-yard line and this time, the Dolphins did reach the end zone to tie the game at 17-17 late in the second quarter.
If you're keeping count, that's three straight times the Dolphins' starting field position was in Buffalo territory and only one touchdown was given up.
Miami's offensive drives in the second half: punt, punt, interception, punt, touchdown, punt, turnover on downs.
The interception in the second half came from rookie CB Kaiir Elam and the Bills took the lead on the ensuing drive. Buffalo didn't trail the rest of the game.
"That really helps us out, bails us out," Allen said of Elam's play. "I can't thank our defense enough for playing the way that they did."
Rookies shine in playoff debuts
The playoffs are about who steps up in the biggest moment and sometimes those contributions can come from unexpected places. For the Bills, they were boosted from three key players from their rookie class.
RB James Cook, CB Kaiir Elam and WR Khalil Shakir all made impact plays at different points of the game — plays that helped turn the tide of the game.
"I mean we're counting on those guys," McDermott said. "It didn't used to be that way when you're a young player. Mostly young players years ago never played or maybe your first-round pick played, so now, the day and age of the NFL is these young players are going to be counted on to play and contribute."
Cook capped off the Bills' second scoring drive of the afternoon with a 12 yard TD rush, followed by a spirited celebration from the rookie where he jumped into the stands. He became the first Bill since Darick Holmes and Tim Tindale to score a rushing TD in their playoff debuts (vs. Miami, 12/30/95).
When Buffalo's offense took a nosedive and the Dolphins took the lead, it was Elam who made a splash play in his first career playoff game, picking off Thompson and setting the Bills' offense up at Miami's 33-yard line.
And late in the fourth quarter with the Bills clinging to a 34-31 lead facing a crucial third down play, it was the sure hands of Khalil Shakir hauling in a 31-yard laser from Allen to keep the chains moving.
"That was a big catch. We've got a lot of trust in him. He's got good hands," McDermott said.
- With the win, the Bills advanced to the AFC Divisional Playoff for the 3rd straight year and will play either Cincinnati or Jacksonville next weekend.
- The Bills won their fourth straight home playoff game, the second-longest such streak in team history.
- The Bills have 400+ in 3 straight playoff games for only the 2nd time in team history.
Check out the best postgame and locker room photos from Buffalo's playoff win over the Dolphins.