Orchard Park, NY—Cornerback Taron Johnson’s 101-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter, the Buffalo Bills defeated the Baltimore Ravens 17-3 on Saturday night to advance to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since the 1993 season in front of approximately 6,700 fans.
Baltimore was driving for a potential tying touchdown on a drive that lasted more than eight minutes, Lamar Jackson didn’t see Johnson who undercut the route on third-and-goal from the 9-yard line.
“Coach made a good call, a Cover-2 call, and I’m just reading the eyes of the quarterback. I have the seam in that coverage, and he took me to the backside, and all I did was cheat. He didn’t see me, and the ball came to me,” Johnson said, adding that his first thought was to take a knee for a touchback.
The last time Buffalo played in the AFC Championship Game was Jan. 23, 1994. They beat the Kansas City Chiefs that year to earn their fourth straight trip to the Super Bowl (a game the Bills would lose for the fourth straight year).
“What a great environment. I know all of our fans couldn’t be in the building, but it was loud again. Great atmosphere,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “We came here with a vision, and seeing it move forward in the right direction feels good.”
The game went to the break knotted at 3 after normally reliable Ravens kicker Justin Tucker missed two field goals –which was shocking to the few Baltimore fans in the stadium.
Both teams played physical for 30 minutes, but the Bills’ offense clicked in the third quarter. The defense plugged up all the gaps and played assignment football the rest of the way.
On the Ravens’ next drive, Jackson was knocked out of the game after taking a hit and having his head bang against the field. Baltimore later announced he was in the concussion protocol, and the Bills closed things out against his backup Tyler Huntley.
The Bills ended the first half with three total rushes — one on a scramble by quarterback Josh Allen on a designed pass play, and another coming with Allen’s kneel-down on the final play.
The three rushes tied for the fewest in the first half of a playoff game over the past 70 seasons, joining the Packers (2016 NFC Championship Game), St. Louis Rams (1999 divisional round), and Houston Oilers (1990 wild-card round).
Allen, who finished 23-of-37 passing for 206 yards and one touchdown for the contest.
Buffalo turned to the run on their opening drive of the second half, which produced the game’s first touchdown — a 4-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who became the first Bills player with a receiving touchdown in consecutive playoff games since Pro Football Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas (1995-96).
“I can’t say enough words for what that game was for our defense and how they played,” Allen said. “Taron Johnson, that’s a play people are going to remember for a long time in Buffalo.”
After Jackson suffered his concussion in the third quarter, he was later ruled out for the entire fourth quarter for the Ravens, who haven’t advanced past the divisional round since the Mile High Miracle eight years ago.
“He’s frustrated. He’s doing good,” said Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead IV, who spoke to Jackson following the contest. “He said he’s fine from the concussion but he’s frustrated that we were that close and that we didn’t get to finish drives. He’s the ultimate competitor. He doesn’t like to lose.”
Jackson was pressured throughout the contest by Buffalo and had to constantly sidestep pass-rushers in the pocket. He got pressured on 55% of his dropbacks, the highest rate of his career.
Jackson was held to 14-of-24 passing for 162 yards, which will put even more pressure on him to develop as a passer next season.
Like Jackson’s previous playoff losses in 2018 and 2019, Baltimore struggled offensively, this time tying a franchise record for fewest points in a playoff game. The Ravens lost to the Colts 20-3 in the 2009 AFC divisional round.
“He’ll look back at the whole season and he’ll make those adjustments that he needs to do to be an even more elite quarterback,” Snead said. “There are steps that he can take, and he knows that. That’s the competitor in him to want to get better each and every offseason, to fix the little things, and to continue to get better as a passer.