Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills erased any doubt of who now rules the AFC East. The quarterback set a team playoff record with five touchdown passes, including two to Dawson Knox, and Devin Singletary ran for two scores in the first half of a 47-17 throttling of the division rival New England Patriots in their wildcard playoff game on Saturday night.
Allen finished 21 of 25 for 308 yards during a game in which Buffalo scored on each of their seven possessions that didn’t end with a kneeldown. As well as his five touchdowns, Allen rushed for 66 yards.
After losing 35 of 40 meetings to New England from 2000 to 2019, Buffalo have now defeated the Patriots in four of the past five meetings, coinciding with Tom Brady’s departure to Tampa Bay. The margin of defeat was the largest for New England in coach Bill Belichick’s tenure, which began in 2000.
Though the winds were relatively calm on Saturday, the Bills were hot in frigid conditions, with a game-time temperature of 7F (-14C). Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, meanwhile, struggled in finishing 24 of 38 for 232 yards with two touchdowns to Kendrick Bourne, including a four-yarder in the final two minutes. Jones was also intercepted twice in closing his season with a combined seven touchdowns passing and seven interceptions in his final five outings.
The Bills put the Patriots on their heels from the opening drive, with Allen patiently waiting in the pocket before scrambling to his right and avoiding a sack. Before stepping out of bounds, Allen lobbed an eight-yard pass to a wide-open Knox in the back right corner of the end zone.
Buffalo’s defense then snuffed out the Patriots’ opening drive with Micah Hyde having the speed and angle to make a leaping interception, snatching the ball away just before Nelson Agholor was about to catch it in the endzone. Jones was also intercepted on New England’s opening drive of the second half, when his pass intended for Hunter Henry was deflected by linebacker Matt Milano and picked off by Levi Wallace.
No series was more indicative of New England’s flat-footed performance than allowing Singletary to score on a 16-yard run to cap a four-play, 89-yard scoring drive to put Buffalo up 27-0 with 1:53 left in the first half. Allen placed a perfect 45-yard pass to Stefon Diggs, who had a step on New England’s top defensive back JC Jackson, a Pro Bowl selection, up the right sideline. Two plays later, Singletary eluded the entire Patriots defense in reaching the end zone. As the fourth quarter neared its end, and with the game effectively over as a contest, Allen threw his final touchdown pass of the night to offensive tackle Tommy Doyle.
In Saturday’s other game, Joe Burrow led an efficient offense that scored on six drives, including two of his touchdown passes, and rookie Evan McPherson made four field goals as the Cincinnati Bengals finally advanced in the playoffs with a 26-19 win over Las Vegas.
It was a victory three decades in the making for the Bengals. After going from worst to first in the AFC North with a young roster, they ended an embarrassing postseason drought that spanned 31 years and eight consecutive defeats.
“It’s a great win for us, for the city, for the organization,” said Burrow, who led the NFL in completion percentage this season. “But we expected this, so it’s not going to be a big celebration like it was when we won the division. We took care of business. It’s on to the next round.”
The Bengals had to survive a Raiders drive to the nine-yard line in the final minute, but Derek Carr was intercepted on fourth down by Germaine Pratt to effectively end the game.
Helped by some problematic officiating by Jerome Boger’s crew that might have allowed Burrow’s touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd to count when it shouldn’t have, the Bengals also extended a lengthy postseason drought for the Raiders. Las Vegas, who won their final four games to squeeze into the playoffs, last won in the postseason in the 2002 AFC championship game.
Cincinnati made it four for four on scoring drives late in the first half, though with some controversy. Burrow rolled right to avoid pressure and threw from close to the sideline. Play continued despite an erroneous whistle by an official, who thought Burrow stepped out of bounds. Boyd caught the 10-yard pass in the back of the end zone for a 20-6 lead. The play counted, to protests from the Raiders.
NFL rule 7, Section 2, Article 1(m) states: “[W]hen an official sounds the whistle erroneously while the ball is still in play, the ball becomes dead immediately … If the ball is in player possession, the team in possession may elect to put the ball in play where it has been declared dead or to replay the down.”
Las Vegas duly lost by seven points but Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia had few complaints and noted that “a lot of things went both ways” with the officials.
“I have enough problem doing my job, I can’t do the officiating, too,” he said. “I didn’t really talk to them about it at that time and didn’t get an explanation.”