How the Buffalo Bills Reached the A.F.C. Championship Game

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Jan. 16, 2021, 11:01 p.m. ET

Jan. 16, 2021, 11:01 p.m. ET

By Ken Belson

Reserve quarterback Tyler Huntley of the Baltimore Ravens was not able to lead his team to a comeback.
Credit...Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

With Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson knocked out of the game with a concussion, and the Bills ahead, 17-3, Baltimore’s fortunes rested with Jackson’s backup, the rookie quarterback Tyler Huntley.

He nearly hit pay dirt. On fourth-and-8 from Baltimore’s 29-yard line, Huntley saw receiver Marquise Brown sprinting down the right sideline several strides ahead of the nearest Bills defender past midfield. But Huntley, who threw just five passes during the regular season, overthrew Brown and the Ravens turned the ball over on downs with 6:42 remaining.

The Bills did not do much with the opportunity. Their drive stalled at the Baltimore 26-yard line and kicker Tyler Bass missed his second field goal attempt of the game. The Bills took just 1:06 off the clock.

Jan. 16, 2021, 10:46 p.m. ET

Jan. 16, 2021, 10:46 p.m. ET

By Ken Belson

Lamar Jackson hit his head on the turf as he fell backward trying to avoid a sack.
Credit...Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, the reigning league M.V.P., left the game and returned to the locker room with a potential concussion.

QB Lamar Jackson is in concussion protocol.

— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 17, 2021

On second-and-10 at the Ravens’ 25-yard line, Jackson lined up in the shotgun. After recovering an errant snap on the eight-yard line, Jackson scrambled backward to the Ravens end zone.

As Jackson threw the ball out of bounds, he was tackled by Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Jackson’s head slammed against the turf and he laid on his back for a few minutes as trainers ran on to the field.

Jackson was charged with intentional grounding and walked to the locker room where he was evaluated.

He was replaced by rookie quarterback Tyler Huntley, who scrambled from the 2-yard line for a 19-yard gain before the Ravens punted the ball.

Jan. 16, 2021, 10:34 p.m. ET

Jan. 16, 2021, 10:34 p.m. ET

By Ken Belson

Taron Johnson intercepted a pass and ran it all the way back for a Buffalo touchdown.
Credit...Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

After a ho-hum first half, the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens look set to trade blows in the second half.

Down 10-3, the Ravens were on the doorstep at the end of the third quarter, ready to tie the score on third-and-goal from the Bills’ 9-yard line. That was until quarterback Lamar Jackson was intercepted by Bills cornerback Taron Johnson in the middle of the end zone to put the Bills up, 17-3, with under a minute remaining in the quarter.

Johnson eluded several tacklers and sprinted down the field for a 101-yard interception return.

Johnson had lined up near the line, then moved backward in zone coverage before jumping in front of Jackson’s pass, which was aimed at Ravens tight end Mark Andrews.

Johnson’s 101-yard return tied a playoff record.

Jan. 16, 2021, 10:22 p.m. ET

Jan. 16, 2021, 10:22 p.m. ET

By Ken Belson

Stefon Diggs caught the first touchdown of the game for Buffalo.
Credit...Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

The Buffalo Bills finally found the end zone, and now lead the Baltimore Ravens, 10-3, early in the third quarter.

After running the ball just three times in the first half, the Bills had a more mixed attack on their opening drive of the second. Running back Devin Singletary had two solid runs — a 9-yard dash on the opening play from scrimmage and a 12-yard scamper on first-and-10 from Baltimore’s 30-yard line — to keep the Ravens off balance and allow quarterback Josh Allen to freeze the defense. After faking a handoff, Allen hit his tight end, Dawson Knox, for one first down. He later hit his favorite receiver, Stefon Diggs, for a 3-yard touchdown pass to cap the drive.

On second-and-goal from the Ravens three yard line, Allen had three receivers lined up left with only two Ravens defenders nearby. Diggs took one step back, caught Allen’s pass, and ran into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.

In all, the Bills ran the ball four times on their 11-play scoring drive.

Josh Allen & Stefon Diggs (3-yard TD)
Route Type: WR Screen

The Ravens matched only 2 DBs on the 3 Bills WRs aligned out wide. Allen is the only QB with multiple TD passes on WR screen passes this season (including playoffs).#BALvsBUF | Powered by @awscloud pic.twitter.com/Hgh3EcUojI

— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 17, 2021

Jan. 16, 2021, 9:58 p.m. ET

Jan. 16, 2021, 9:58 p.m. ET

By Ken Belson

Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen threw the game’s first touchdown to Stefon Diggs, his top receiver.
Credit...John Munson/Associated Press

The Buffalo Bills’ and Baltimore Ravens’ offenses were true to their character in the first half of their divisional matchup, though neither team found the end zone. The score is tied, 3-3, at halftime.

The Bills relied almost entirely on the pass despite a gusting wind that led to three missed field goals. Quarterback Josh Allen, who racked up more than 4,500 yards passing this season, was 13 of 22 passing for 120 yards. Allen found Stefon Diggs on four passes for 59 yards and John Brown with six tosses for 54 yards.

The Bills ran the ball just three times in the first half, one of which was Allen’s kneel to end the half, perhaps mindful that the Ravens held the league’s leading rusher, the Titans’ Derrick Henry, in check last week.

The record for fewest rushing attempts in a playoff game is eight, according to Pro Football Reference.

From @ESPNStatsInfo: The Bills passed (attempts + sacks) on 23 of 26 plays in the 1st half, or 88.5%.

According to Elias, the highest pass percentage in a playoff game all-time is 85.7% -- by the Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX (54 of 63 plays).

— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) January 17, 2021

The Ravens, who had the league’s best running offense, had a more balanced attack. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is the first quarterback to run for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, ran the ball seven times for 18 yards. As a team, they ran the ball 18 times. Jackson completed eight of 15 pass attempts for 118 yards.

The Ravens’ ability to run the ball helped them dominate time of possession. They had the ball for about 20 minutes, twice as long as the Bills.

Jan. 16, 2021, 9:21 p.m. ET

Jan. 16, 2021, 9:21 p.m. ET

By Ken Belson

Ravens kicker Justin Tucker missed two field goals in the first half — hitting each off of an upright.
Credit...Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, one of the most accurate kickers in N.F.L. history, is making a habit of missing field goals at the worst time. For the second time tonight, Tucker hit the upright, allowing the Bills to hang on to their 3-0 lead midway through the second quarter.

Tucker’s first attempt, from 41 yards, was going into the wind and hit the left upright. His second kick, with the wind at his back, was from 46 yards and bounced off the right upright.

Bills rookie kicker Tyler Bass contributed a doink of his own. Bass hit one field goal from 28 yards for Buffalo’s only score. But he missed his next attempt, from 43 yards out, also into to the wind.

The temperature was around freezing at kickoff with winds gusting at about 15 miles per hour.

Neither team has sniffed the end zone. The Bills came closest when, on first-and-10 from the Buffalo 37-yard line, quarterback Josh Allen overthrew receiver Stefon Diggs on a deep route. Diggs had beaten the coverage and would have had a clear path to the end zone had the pass been on target.

Meanwhile, Lamar Jackson has done some Lamar Jackson-type things.

Jan. 16, 2021, 8:42 p.m. ET

Jan. 16, 2021, 8:42 p.m. ET

By Ken Belson

The Baltimore Ravens’ Justin Tucker has been one of the most consistent kickers in the N.F.L., with a 89.7 percent success rate on field goals this season.

The playoffs appear to be a different story. After the Ravens plowed down the field on their opening drive, Tucker missed a 41-yard field goal when his kick hit the left upright and bounced back onto the field.

Tucker also missed a 52-yard kick last weekend in Nashville against the Titans. Tucker had made 48 straight field goals in the fourth quarter or overtime. Tucker, though, came back to make a 51-yard kick that helped secure the Ravens’ victory.

Jan. 16, 2021, 8:17 p.m. ET

Jan. 16, 2021, 8:17 p.m. ET

By Ken Belson

Lamar Jackson of the Ravens is the N.F.L.’s reigning most valuable player.
Credit...Rich Barnes/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The Baltimore Ravens-Buffalo Bills showdown may be the most even matchup of the divisional round of the N.F.L. playoffs.

The Bills (13-3) scored more than 500 points for the first time in franchise history and were the second-best scoring offense in the league. The Ravens (11-5) gave up the second-fewest points in the N.F.L.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen threw for more than 4,500 yards and has one of the N.F.L.’s best receivers in Stefon Diggs. They will face the sixth-best pass defense in the league, led by cornerback Marlon Humphrey.

The Bills defense will go up against the league’s top running game, led by quarterback Lamar Jackson and running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. The Ravens ran for more than 3,000 yards for the second-straight season and had 236 yards rushing last weekend in their victory over the Tennessee Titans. The Bills had the 20th best defense against the run.

Third downs will be key.

Both teams were excellent on third down in the regular season. The Ravens converted 49.1 percent of their third downs, second-best in the league, while the Bills were fourth at 48.5 percent.

But the Ravens had a far better defense on third down. Teams converted just 34 percent of their chances, No. 2 in the league. The Bills defense ranked 16th on third downs.

Another variable: The weather in Orchard Park, N.Y. The temperature at kickoff was just above freezing with light winds and no snow forecast.

The winner will play in the A.F.C. Championship game next Sunday against the defending champion Kansas Chiefs or the Cleveland Browns. The Bills haven’t been to the conference title game since the 1993 season, when they made it to the Super Bowl (and lost) for the fourth consecutive year. The Ravens haven’t been that far since the 2012 season, when they went on to win Super Bowl XLVII.

Aaron Rodgers had 296 yards and two touchdowns passing, and ran in another touchdown.
Credit...Mike Roemer/Associated Press

There was not a lot of focus on the Green Bay offensive line in the buildup to the Packers’ divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday. The attention was understandably elsewhere: Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a top candidate for the N.F.L. Most Valuable Player Award, and the Rams had the league’s leading defensive unit featuring dominant defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

But hobbled by an injury to his ribs, Donald was frequently sidelined Saturday and would make only one tackle in the game. While Rodgers had another patient and skillful postseason performance that included two touchdown passes, it was the Green Bay rushing attack — powered by the authoritative push of its offensive line — that led the way to a steady 32-18 victory.

“They were the stars of the game tonight,” Rodgers said of his offensive linemen. “They dominated.”

The Packers, who rushed for 188 yards and logged 484 total yards, advance to the N.F.C. championship game next weekend at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field against the winner of Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints. It will be Rodgers’s fifth N.F.C. title game appearance but his first at home in Green Bay.

Saturday was the first time this season that the Packers had hosted spectators for a home game and roughly 8,500 fans, which included families of team employees, flocked to Lambeau Field. Rodgers said he was hoping for an even bigger crowd next weekend.

“It was a joy to see them,” Rodgers said of the Packers faithful. Looking forward to their return for the first N.F.C. championship game in Green Bay since 2008, Rodgers added: “It means a lot. Got me emotional with the crowd out there today.”

Green Bay running back Aaron Jones had 99 rushing yards on 14 carries, including a backbreaking 60-yard dash on the Packers’ first play of the second half. When Jones ended that Packers possession with a 1-yard touchdown run, it stalled a brief rally the Rams had mounted in the second quarter.

Image

Credit...Dan Powers/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The Packers had taken a 19-10 first half lead on two Mason Crosby field goals, a nifty, scrambling 1-yard touchdown run by Rodgers and a 1-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers, who completed 23 of 36 passes for 296 yards, to wide receiver Davante Adams, who caught nine passes for 66 yards.

Los Angeles rallied to make a third-quarter run at the Packers. Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who completed 21 of 27 passes for 174 yards and one touchdown, had seemed out of sync to that point. Perhaps it was because he was without one of his top receiving targets, Cooper Kupp, who missed the game with a knee injury. But to start the second half, Goff completed six consecutive passes for 51 yards.

The Rams then went back to the rushing attack, and on a first-and-goal from the Packers’ 7-yard line, running back Cam Akers took a direct snap and bulled into the end zone. The Packers’ lead was trimmed to seven points.

But Jones and Rodgers were not deterred.

After pounding the middle of the Rams defensive line with running plays for much of one possession, Rodgers audibled at the line of scrimmage on a second down to call a deep pass to wide receiver Allen Lazard. Rodgers began the play with a backfield play-action fake and then connected with Lazard, who split two defenders and caught a perfectly placed ball in the open field for a 58-yard touchdown.

The score put the Packers ahead, 32-18, with under seven minutes remaining. The Rams did not get past the Green Bay 47-yard line in the game’s closing minutes.

Green Bay Packers receiver Allen Lazard, with a 58-yard touchdown, put the game out of reach for the Los Angeles Rams.
Credit...Stacy Revere/Getty Images

After pounding the middle of the Rams defensive line with running plays for much of the game, on a second-and-6 near midfield, Aaron Rodgers called an audible at the line of scrimmage and switched to a deep pass to wide receiver Allen Lazard. Rodgers began the play with a backfield play-action fake then connected with Lazard, who was untouched as he split two defenders and caught Rodgers’s perfect pass in the open field for a 58-yard touchdown. The score increased the Packers lead to 32-18 with seven minutes remaining which proved to be the final score.

Cam Akers scored a touchdown for the Los Angeles Rams after accepting a direct snap from the center.
Credit...Stacy Revere/Getty Images

After forcing the first Packers punt of the game midway through the third quarter, the Rams offense rallied to give Los Angeles the jolt it needed to get back in the game.

Well aware that he is now in a shootout, Rams Coach Sean McVay came out throwing as Jared Goff completed six consecutive passes for 51 yards. The Rams went back to the rushing attack for several plays, and then on a first-and-goal from the Packers’ 7-yard line, running back Cam Akers lined up at quarterback. Taking the direct snap, Akers bulled into the end zone.

McVay stayed inventive. On a two-point conversion try, Goff threw to wide receiver Van Jefferson in the flat, who tossed a lateral to Akers on a hook and ladder play that succeeded and cut the Packers lead to 25-18. The fourth quarter is underway.

Aaron Jones of the Packers broke open a big run before using a shorter one to roll into the end zone.
Credit...Mike Roemer/Associated Press

The intermittent absences of Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is widely considered the best defensive lineman in the N.F.L., continues to be a key to the Packers’ dominance. Donald did not start the second half with the Rams first-team defense and on its first play, Green Bay handed the football to running back Aaron Jones who gashed through the middle of the Rams defense on a startling 60-yard run.

After an Aaron Rodgers incomplete pass, the Packers went back to the ground attack on four successive plays, with Jones finishing off the drive on a 1-yard touchdown run that put Green Bay ahead, 25-10. The two-point conversion attempt that followed failed.

Donald injured his ribs in last weekend’s playoff game in Seattle and has been off the field for roughly half of the Rams’ defensive snaps so far. His presence as a run-stopper was considered a pivotal weapon against the potent Packers offense, which has instead moved up and down the field. The Packers have 160 rushing yards, including 85 yards from Jones on 10 carries.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has put together a season worthy of M.V.P. consideration.
Credit...Morry Gash/Associated Press

The Green Bay Packers, leading 19-10 after the first half of Saturday’s divisional playoff game with the Los Angeles Rams, are on a familiar route to success so far. The Packers have now outscored opponents 318-173 in the first two quarters this season, which was the key to 13 victories in 16 regular season games.

Green Bay has been outscored in the final quarter of games by 17 points, but their early leads have provided the necessary cushion most weeks. With only 39 seconds remaining before intermission Saturday, and after the Rams had pulled to within six points, the Packers rebounded by added to their lead. Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay down the field but narrowly avoided being intercepted on two consecutive plays as he looked for receivers in the end zone. The Packers instead got a 39-yard field goal from Mason Crosby on the final play of the second quarter.

Unreal drive by Aaron Rodgers with 29 seconds left but the Rams can’t drop back to back picks! That 3 points

— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) January 16, 2021

Jared Goff celebrating after his first touchdown, a pass to Van Jefferson.
Credit...Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

While Rams quarterback Jared Goff seemed unable to get in sync with his wide receivers in the early stages of Saturday’s game — perhaps missing Cooper Kupp, who is out with a knee injury — he led Los Angeles on an aggressive, proficient scoring drive late in the second quarter. It was a quick strike that the reeling Rams, down 16-3 at the time, needed and proved that Goff’s surgically repaired right thumb (he injured it Dec. 27 against the Seattle Seahawks) is healthy enough for him to help the Rams keep pace with high-flying Green Bay.

After Cam Akers rumbled for five key rushes, Goff picked up 21 key yards on a Josh Reynolds reception. Goff then threw an accurate 4-yard touchdown pass caught to rookie receiver Van Jefferson, who is Kupp’s replacement. Goff has completed nine of 10 passes for 91 yards through halftime.

Aaron Donald, who has been recovering from an injury, left the game during the first series and was not playing as well as most offenses fear.
Credit...Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald has been frustrated and largely been held ineffective in the first half.

Donald lost his temper and was signaled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for tussling with Packers offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins after he was successfully blocked on one first-quarter play. Donald, who tore some of his rib cartilage in last weekend’s victory over Seattle and missed practice time this week, has also been sidelined periodically during the first half. He came off the field before the Packers’ first possession ended and was not playing during the Packers drive during the middle of the second quarter.

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