The Buffalo Bills will play in the AFC Championship Game for the first time in 27 years after they beat the Baltimore Ravens 17-3 on Saturday in the divisional round.
The Bills, who hosted the Ravens at Bills Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, are now just two wins away from their first-ever Super Bowl victory.
The game's turning point occurred near the end of the third quarter, when Bills defensive back Taron Johnson picked off a pass from Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and returned it 101 yards for a touchdown and a 16-3 Bills edge.
The Bills and Ravens ended the first half in a 3-3 tie. Bills wideout Stefon Diggs, who finished with eight catches for 106 yards, scored the game's only offensive touchdown on a three-yard pass from quarterback Josh Allen with 9:29 left in the third quarter:
Jackson left the game at the end of the third quarter and did not return upon entering concussion protocol.
The 2019 NFL MVP recovered a botched shotgun snap and tossed an incomplete pass in the face of pressure from Bills defensive players Trent Murphy and Tremaine Edmunds.
Jackson hit his head in the end zone and stayed down before walking into the locker room on his own power.
The Ravens' season has ended in the divisional round for the second straight year. They finished 11-5 in the regular season before beating the Tennessee Titans 20-13 in the wild-card round.
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson: 14-of-24, 162 passing yards, 1 INT; 9 carries, 34 rushing yards
Ravens WR Marquise Brown: 4 catches, 87 receiving yards
Ravens TE Mark Andrews: 4 catches, 28 receiving yards
Bills QB Josh Allen: 23-of-37, 206 passing yards, 1 TD
Bills WR Stefon Diggs: 8 catches, 106 receiving yards, 1 TD
Bills WR John Brown: 8 catches, 62 receiving yards
Bills Defense Dominates Ravens Attack
Allen, Diggs and a powerful and explosive offense have received most of the storylines during this magical Bills season, but the Buffalo defense has been putting in work as well, with playmakers such as Tre'Davious White, Jerry Hughes and Jordan Poyer helping lead a unit that finished a respectable 12th in Football Outsiders' DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) metric.
However, it was the defense's time to shine on a night where neither team could get much going on offense. The onus was on the Bills D to push Buffalo into the AFC title game, and it did just that by bending (but not breaking) in opportune spots while making some crucially important plays as well.
Levi Wallace was the first Bill to make a huge defensive play, sacking Jackson with the Ravens facing a 1st-and-10 from Buffalo's 25-yard line in the first quarter:
That pushed the Ravens out of field-goal range on a chilly, windy night in Western New York. Baltimore got itself back in it with 13 yards in two plays, but Justin Tucker's 41-yard field goal was no good.
The Ravens then went three-and-out on two straight drives, but a fourth drive showed promise, with the team earning a 1st-and-10 from the Buffalo 35-yard line.
Once again, Buffalo came through, preventing Baltimore from getting another first down. Matt Milano was the star here with a tackle of running back Gus Edwards on second down and a pass breakup on third.
Once again, Tucker missed another field goal, this time from 46 yards.
The Bills continued to bend but not break. Another Ravens drive saw the team somehow go from a 2nd-and-29 on its own 1-yard line to a 1st-and-10 on their 46, but that effort ended without points. Hughes made the Ravens work harder with this sack for a nine-yard loss:
Eventually, the Ravens finally crept into the red zone and seriously threatened to score a touchdown. Jackson expertly navigated Baltimore down the field and got within the 10-yard line.
The quarterback then looked to his favorite target, Mark Andrews, to tie the game.
At that point, it was Murphy's Law for the Ravens and euphoria for the Bills. Johnson picked off the pass and found a crease on the right side of a mass of players, slicing his way down the field, getting a crucial downfield block from Micah Hyde on Jackson and sprinting the rest of the way for a huge pick-six:
The fourth quarter featured more of the same, even with Tyler Huntley replacing Jackson. The Ravens had their chances, but the Bills held firm on their own end. Baltimore had a 1st-and-goal from the Buffalo 8-yard line in the final minutes down 14 points, but the Ravens came up empty, sealing the Bills' win.
Numerous analysts raved around the Bills' defensive effort, and rightfully so:
Buffalo is now in the AFC title game for the first time since January 1994, when the Bills earned their fourth straight AFC championship win.
The Bills happened to play the Kansas City Chiefs to make the Super Bowl back then, and it's possible the same can happen now if the Chiefs beat the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
We'll soon find out if the stars align for the Bills, but regardless of what happens, Western New York is home to an NFL powerhouse capable of long-term, sustainable success.
Missed Opportunities Doom Ravens in Winnable Game
The chances were there for the Ravens to take leads or at least keep pace with the Bills, but Baltimore failed to capitalize on all of them.
Tucker, who missed just one field goal under 50 yards all year, was off on two Saturday. Yes, the wind certainly played a factor in Orchard Park, but it was still stunning to watch the game's greatest all-time kicker miss two field goals that are usually automatic for him.
In addition, the Ravens struggled nearly every time they passed midfield. They didn't have too much trouble moving the ball overall and even outgained the Bills 340-220. The issue occurred when the Ravens encroached on field-goal range.
At that point, the Bills' front seven proved overwhelming, and Jackson could not connect with his receivers. Dropped passes didn't help, nor did bad snaps from Patrick Mekari, who had a rough night against the Bills.
Still, the Ravens weren't out of it in the fourth quarter, even though Jackson was forced to leave the game with the team down 14 points. Huntley came in and impressed with his legs and arm, and the Ravens had a chance to pull within seven after the quarterback launched a pass to a wide-open Marquise Brown.
The speedster could have sprinted into the end zone with nothing but green in front of him, but the Huntley pass was a bit too long.
The Ravens had yet another chance to pull within a score, getting down to the Bills' 8-yard line before the two-minute warning. However, a dropped J.K. Dobbins pass and a barely missed connection from Huntley to Andrews sealed the Ravens' fate.
In the end, the Ravens were their own worst enemies. Credit to the Bills and their excellent defense for setting the tone in victory, but Baltimore had its shots throughout the night.
The Ravens didn't take advantage of them, and now their season is over.
The Bills will either travel to face the Kansas City Chiefs or host the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Championship Game next Sunday at 6:40 p.m. ET.
Kansas City will host Cleveland in the AFC Divisional Round on Sunday at 3:05 p.m. ET.