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Bills knock out Lamar Jackson, Ravens to reach AFC title game

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It happened in a New York Minute.

With 58 seconds remaining in the third quarter Saturday night, the Ravens were nine yards away from tying the score. When that time expired, the Bills had no chance of losing.

Taron Johnson stepped in front of Lamar Jackson’s third-down pass into the end zone and returned his interception 101 yards for the biggest play of the Bills’ 17-3 victory against the Ravens in an AFC divisional playoff game. With a blocking escort, Johnson outran the speedy Jackson down the sideline.

The devastating turn of events only multiplied two plays later. The Ravens had trouble with snaps all game long and a fly ball over the head of Jackson in the shotgun sent him scrambling toward his own end zone.

Jackson scooped the ball and threw it out of bounds as he was dragged down, trading an intentional grounding penalty at the 2-yard line to avoid a touchdown or safety.

The bigger problem? The 2019 NFL MVP suffered a concussion on the crazy final play of the quarter and did not return to the game.

Taron Johnson runs back a 101 yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Bills' 17-3 win over the Ravens.
Taron Johnson runs back a 101 yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Bills’ 17-3 win over the Ravens.
AP

Undrafted rookie quarterback Tyler Huntley had two chances to make things interesting. On fourth-and-9 with 6:39 remaining, he overthrew a streaking Marquise Brown on what would’ve been a sure 71-yard touchdown. Four minutes later, he threw an incompletion when a leaping Mark Andrews couldn’t secure a high pass on fourth-and-goal.

Despite compiling just 220 yards of total offense and 16 first downs, the Bills are headed to the AFC Championship for the first time since the last of their four straight appearances from 1990-93. They either will host the Browns or visit the Chiefs next weekend.

Kicking through intermittent 16 mph winds was the story of the first half, which ended in a 3-3 tie as the fourth playoff game since 2000 with no first-half touchdowns.

The Ravens’ Justin Tucker — the most accurate kicker in NFL history — missed two field goals in a game for the first time since 2018. But both those attempts were from 50-plus yards. Never before in a nine-year career had he missed twice from inside 50.

Lamar Jackson is hit by Trent Murphy during the Ravens' season-ending loss.
Lamar Jackson is hit by Trent Murphy during the Ravens’ season-ending loss.
AP

In their first game since losing short-yardage back Zack Moss to an ankle injury, the Bills became the first team in the last 60 postseasons not to have a rushing attempt in the first quarter. Their three rushes in the first half was the fewest since the Packers in the 2016 NFC Championship, but they still set up Tyler Bass to convert 1-of-2 field goals.

Each team only got one full possession in the third quarter.

The Bills took the kickoff and drove 66 yards on 11 plays for the tie-breaking touchdown on a drive that featured better run-pass balance. After four rushes, Allen threw a wide receiver screen to Stefon Diggs, who got low and navigated traffic for a 3-yard touchdown.

The Ravens responded with an eight-minute drive to the Bills’ 9-yard line. Under pressure, Jackson skipped a pass to a wide open Brown as the potential tying touchdown turned into an incompletion. The interception came on the next play — the 15th of the possession.

Johnson, a third-year player from Weber State with two interceptions in his first 41 career games, disguised his spot in the underneath zone and read Jackson’s eyes as he stared down Andrews.

With their highest-paid running back —Mark Ingram — on the bench as a healthy scratch in favor of youngsters JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards, the NFL’s leading rushing attack managed 150 yards but was not a difference-maker. Jackson ran for 34 yards.

Bass accounted for the fourth missed field goal of the game late in the fourth quarter.

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