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Unlikely hero Taron Johnson carries Bills to AFC title game

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You never know when it will be your turn to be the hero, your turn to light a championship-starved football city on fire.

But everyone is allowed to dream, everyone is allowed to see themselves make a David Tyree Helmet Catch, or a Malcolm Butler end-zone interception.

And on a frigid, windy night in Buffalo, it was Taron Johnson who lived out his dream and helped Josh Allen take another step closer to truly beginning his Jim Kelly legacy.

It was Taron Johnson who intercepted Lamar Jackson for a 101-yard pick-six that sent the Bills to their first AFC Championship in 27 years with a 17-3 victory over the Ravens.

It was Taron Johnson who made 6,700 Bills Mafia fans, some of them bare chested, sound more like 67,000 fans.

It was Taron Johnson, a third-year cornerback out of Weber State whose young career had been compromised by injuries, who made the biggest play of his life in the biggest game of his life.

“They always tell us, ‘Look at the vision of the quarterback, he’s gonna take you where the ball is, especially in zone,’ ” Johnson said.

Jackson eyed tight end Mark Andrews. He wound up futilely chasing Taron Johnson.

Taron Johnson returns an interception 101 yards for a touchdown during the Bills' 17-3 win over the Ravens.
Taron Johnson returns an interception 101 yards for a touchdown during the Bills’ 17-3 win over the Ravens.

“I caught the ball and I kind of looked down, but then I looked up, and I just seen a bunch of green grass to the right side,” Johnson said.

So he had an important decision to make. “After I caught it, I definitely thought for a second maybe I should kneel it,” Johnson said. “At that point, I was like, ‘OK, it’s one person I gotta beat, and that’s No. 8 on the other side.’ ”

Johnson headed straight to the AFC Championship game.

“I saw Lamar coming, I slowed down a little bit to let Tre [White] get in front of me, just to help me out,” Johnson said.

Marv Levy, who watched it all from his Chicago home, had been most impressed with Allen’s ascension to the elite in his third season.

“Just his comportment I guess as much as anything,” Levy told The Post. “He listens well, he learns, he stays cool even when something doesn’t go exactly his way.”

For a while, for a half, plenty didn’t go Allen’s way on Saturday night.

Then, on the opening possession of the second half, he found Stefon Diggs with a 3-yard touchdown pass that made it Bills 10, Ravens 3.

Then here came Lamar Jackson.

And in the blink of an eye, there went Lamar Jackson.

Jackson had converted a third-and-13 at midfield with a 15-yard scramble before Jerry Hughes, with Marquise “Hollywood” Brown wide open for what would have been the tying touchdown, pressured Jackson into a low throw.

Then here came Taron Johnson.

Lamar Jackson, third-and-goal at the 9, threw a dart for Andrews in the end zone and next thing he knew, he was futilely chasing Johnson on his dramatic 101-yard pick-six.

All of Buffalo exploded.

It was Jackson’s first red-zone interception after throwing 49 career TDs.

It was Johnson’s second career interception and pick-six.

Sometimes it is a night for the Bruce Smiths and the Ray Lewises.

Or a Taron Johnson.

A feisty 5-foot-11, 192-pound corner who plays bigger than he is.

And right then and there it was over.

Jackson was down in his end zone following a bad snap and heading to the locker room at the end of the third quarter with a concussion after landing on his head.

Tyler Huntley, an undrafted free agent out of Utah who had thrown five career passes, wasn’t bringing the Ravens all the way back. He was overthrowing a wide-open Hollywood Brown deep downfield instead.

There were nights when Jim Kelly didn’t do it all alone either, and all the city cares about is the Chiefs-Browns winner is next.

Allen wasn’t intercepted, didn’t throw any pick-six, acted like he had been here before.

Neither quarterback had impacted the game with his wondrous legs, and a tricky wind had imperiled the passing and kicking games.

Josh Allen is 60 minutes from a Super Bowl. All of Buffalo will believe he can take their Bills there. Thanks in large part to Taron Johnson, he can be Jim Kelly.

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