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A quarter century of playoff futility is over for the Bills.
A career’s worth of ineffectiveness continues for Philip Rivers — unless he decides this is it for him.
Josh Allen threw for two touchdowns and ran for another Saturday to lead the Bills to a 27-24 victory in an AFC wild-card game full of missed opportunities for the Colts, who left at least 11 points off the scoreboard.
With fans allowed at Bills Stadium in Orchard Park for the first time this season under revised New York state law during the COVID-19 pandemic, 6,700 were on hand as Buffalo played its first home playoff game since Dec. 28, 1996, and won a playoff game for the first time since Dec. 30, 1995. The six consecutive playoff losses that followed included blowing a 16-point second-half lead against the Texans last season.
They had plenty of help this time. Simply put, there is no way the Colts should have been trailing 14-10 at halftime or should have been unable to get into position to attempt the tying field goal, settling for a Hail Mary on the final play.
In what might have been Rivers’ final game before retirement, the future Hall of Fame quarterback threw for 309 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns, but his career playoff record fell to 5-7.
Borrowing a page from the many head-scratchers during Rivers’ 16-year career with the Chargers, the Colts came up empty on back-to-back red-zone drives spanning the two halves, including a 14-play drive ending on a missed 33-yard field goal. They also took a successful PAT off the board to try a two-point conversion attempt that failed.
Allen threw for 324 yards and had an interception overturned by replay review. The difference was kicker Tyler Bass’ 54-yard field goal.
The Bills could face the Steelers, Ravens or Titans next weekend.
The Colts surprisingly were the more explosive offense in the first half — with nine plays covering 10 or more yards — and still managed to control the clock with nearly 20 minutes of possession. But, with a chance to build on a 10-7 lead, goal-line play-calling fails made the difference.
A pitch wide to Jonathan Taylor on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line resulted in a two-yard loss. Then, an aggressive decision to bypass a field goal attempt — a sensible decision from the 1-yard line, but not from the 3 — backfired because rookie Michael Pittman couldn’t add to his dominant first half (91 yards) when a near-touchdown pass slipped through his fully extended fingers.
Each of the Bills’ first five possessions began at or inside their own 15-yard line — an average starting field position of the 7. Three resulted in three-and-out punts and two produced touchdown drives of 85 and 96 yards without Buffalo converting a third down on either.
When the Colts were ready for a quarterback draw at the 3-yard line, Allen improvised and, as he was dragged to the turf, shoveled a touchdown pass to an uncovered Dawson Knox for a 7-3 lead. With that in mind on the next red-zone possession, Allen’s fake handoff bought him running room and he powered around the edge for the go-ahead 5-yard touchdown.
Back when the Bills went to the Super Bowl every year in the early 1990s, Frank Reich, now the Colts’ coach, once quarterbacked them to a playoff-record 32-point comeback victory. Reich returned to town Saturday, but the comeback fell short although Indianapolis converted a fourth-and-10 and benefited from a favorable call on a possible lost fumble on its final drive.