ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — — In what was supposed to be a showdown between Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Taron Johnson actually stole the show.
If not for the wall separating the field from the stands in the back of the east end zone, the Bills cornerback may still be working after returning an interception 101 yards for a touchdown that propelled Buffalo to its first AFC championship game appearance in 27 years.
Johnson’s pick-6 of Jackson’s cross with 41 seconds remaining within the third quarter helped secure a 17-Three win over the Ravens in a divisional-round playoff game Saturday night.
“We’re excited. It’s not done but, we’re not done but,” Johnson exclaimed. “It’s only a blessing. Our defense stepped as much as the challenge.”
Johnson’s return matched the longest in NFL history and punctuated a stellar defensive outing during which Buffalo (15-3) limited the NFL’s prime working offense to 150 yards on 32 carries.
Jackson, final season’s NFL MVP, was sacked thrice and didn’t return after sustaining a concussion following the final play of the third quarter, and two performs after Johnson scored. He completed 14 of 24 for 162 yards passing, whereas being limited to 42 yards rushing on 9 carries.
Allen, an MVP candidate this yr, finished 23 of 37 for 206 yards and a landing.
In a season in which the bills relied totally on their dynamic Allen-led offense to outscore opponents, the third-year quarterback was gratified to see Buffalo’s protection make a difference in a sport the pass-happy assault was kept mostly in examine.
“I can’t say enough words for what that sport was for our defense,” Allen mentioned. “Taron Johnson’s is a play that people are going to remember for a long time right here in Buffalo, potentially a franchise-altering play.”
The Bills advanced to the AFC championship sport for the first time since 1994 on their approach to making — and dropping — their 4 consecutive Super Bowl look. Buffalo additionally extended a season during which it has broken quite a few droughts by claiming its first AFC East division title in 25 years and, with final week’s victory over Indianapolis, successful its first postseason sport for the reason that identical yr.
The Bills, have received eight straight to match their greatest streak since 1990 and can play the winner of the AFC’s other divisional playoff between Cleveland and Kansas Metropolis on Sunday.
The fifth-seeded Ravens (12-6) had their season come to an end after main the NFL in yards dashing for a second consecutive yr.
Baltimore clinched its third playoff berth in three years by winning its ultimate 5 regular-season games. The successful streak got here after a 1-Four skid capped by a 19-14 loss at Pittsburgh on Dec. 2 in a game rescheduled thrice attributable to COVID-19 issues.
“It’s a tragic second, but this team has been by way of lots,” tight finish Mark Andrew mentioned. “It’s robust proper now, but teammates and coaches and camaraderie, it was a bunch of particular guys that labored onerous, got here to work each day and didn’t take something as a right. We’re going to carry our heads high and are available again and work.”
Tied at 3 after the first half, the Bills took control in the third quarter.
Buffalo went forward 10-Three on Allen’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to cap an 11-play, 66-yard opening drive.
The Ravens threatened to reply on their next drive, which ended with Johnson’s interception. With Baltimore facing third-and-goal from the 9, Johnson jumped in entrance of the cross meant for Andrews and took off up the best sideline. He adopted teammate Tre’Davious White, who made positive Jackson didn’t have an angle to push Johnson out of bounds.
Johnson, who additionally returned an interception for a rating in a 26-15 win over Pittsburgh on Dec. 13, mentioned he initially considered happening after catching the ball, earlier than seeing nobody in entrance of him.
“I caught the ball and kind of looked down, however then I looked up and saw an entire bunch of green grass to that aspect of me,” he mentioned. “At that point, there’s one particular person I’ve to beat. And that’s No. 8 (Jackson).”
Johnson’s interception return matched Packer’s defensive back George Teague’s INT return in Green Bay’s 28-24 win over Detroit in a wild-card playoff on Jan. 8, 1994.
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Things turned worse for Baltimore two snaps later, when Jackson was forced out of the game.
Going through second-and-10 at Baltimore’s 25, middle Patrick Mekari snapped the ball over Jackson’s head. The quarterback turned and chased the bouncing ball down contained in the 5, turned and rapidly threw it away as Tremaine Edmunds had him by the legs and Trent Murphy fell on prime of him.
Jackson’s damage left Tyler Huntley to finish the sport after being promoted off the apply squad.
“I’m not frustrated in any respect,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh mentioned in saying Jackson sustained a concussion. “The gamers are disillusioned. It’s robust to lose a sport. Our guys played like loopy, and when you don’t win the sport you’re going to really feel it.”
Gusting winds performed havoc with the kickers.
Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, the NFL’s most correct kicker, hit the left upright from 41 yards and the best upright from 46 yards, earlier than hitting a 34-yard try. It was the first time he missed twice from inside 50 yards in the same sport.
Buffalo rookie Tyler Bass lacking two of three discipline goal attempts — a 43-yarder that was extensive proper within the second quarter and a 44-yarder that sailed wide left with 5:30 remaining.
PRACTICE SQUAD TO PLAYOFFS
Huntley, who had tried simply 5 passes in two appearances this season, finished 6 of 13 for 60 yards on three drives, the final two during which Baltimore turned the ball over on downs.
Ravens: Season over.
Bills: Advance to AFC championship sport for the first time since 1994, the place they’ll face Cleveland or play Kansas City for a second time this season following a 26-17 loss to the Chiefs on Oct. 19.
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