Josh Allen puts on a signature performance in Bills playoff win

QB Josh Allen showed why the Bills can’t be discounted from Super Bowl contention in Wild Card win over the Colts.

Buffalo Bills fans waited 25 years for this moment, the franchise’s first playoff win since 1995. But for quarterback Josh Allen, who wasn’t even born the last time the Bills won in the playoffs, it was just a long 12 months.

Last January, in his first career playoff game, Allen had the Bills well on their way to victory, holding a 16-0 lead over the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round. Then the Texans came back to win in overtime, extending the excruciating quarter-century wait for the “Bills Mafia.”

Allen stewed on that loss for the past year, knowing he needed to be better if the Bills were going to take the next step toward being Super Bowl contenders. And on Saturday, in front of 6,700 cheering fans at New Era Field for the first time this season, he showed he’s not the quarterback he was a year ago.

The Bills defeated the Indianapolis Colts 27-24, Allen throwing for 324 yards and two touchdowns while also adding 54 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He’s only the third quarterback in the Super Bowl era to put up numbers like that in a playoff victory and the first since the 49ers’ Jeff Garcia in 2002.

In that playoff loss to Houston, Allen went 5-16 on throws more than 10 yards downfield. Against the Colts, he was 10-16 for 223 yards on deep throws. He missed just one pass thrown more than 20 yards downfield. It was the culmination in a long process, aided by his personal coach Jordan Palmer, to become more accurate, the one glaring weakness in his game over his first two seasons in the league. Allen had a quarterback rating of 64.4 on deep passes last season; this year, his rating improved to 103.0.

Allen set franchise records in the regular season for passing yards and touchdowns, a significant accomplishment considering this was the same team that once had Hall of Famer Jim Kelly leading the K-Gun offense to four straight Super Bowls. The addition of league-leading Stefon Diggs in an offseason trade from the Vikings helped elevate Allen’s play to an MVP-type level. It was a throw to Diggs on Saturday that showed just how much he’s improved.

Allen makes the highlight reel with his arm and legs

With 14 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bills holding a seven-point lead, Allen faced pressure from the Indianapolis defensive front, ripped a flat-footed throw more than 40 yards down the field, just past the reach of cornerback TJ Carrie, and into the waiting arms of Diggs for a touchdown. A year ago that pass is likely over Diggs’ head, Allen not able to harness his incredible arm strength; in the 2020 season, it was a perfect pass.

Late in the second quarter, on 2nd-and-10 from deep in their own territory, Allen was forced to scramble in the end zone. Most quarterbacks throw that ball away in that situation. Allen, though, found Gabriel Davis for a 37-yard gain. Two plays later, Allen again was forced out to his right, turned back to his left, unleashed an across-the-body throw, and again completed it to Davis for 19 yards.

It wasn’t just with his arm that Allen ripped apart the Colts defense. With 27 seconds left in the first half, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called a designed run for Allen from the shotgun that resulted in a 16-yard gain to the Colts’ five-yard-line. Allen finished off the drive himself on the next play with a touchdown run. Just the threat of his running led to Buffalo’s first points of the game: in the first quarter, he faked a run, coaxing the Colts linebackers to crash the line of scrimmage, before finding tight end Dawson Knox in the end zone.

Allen wasn’t without his faults on Saturday. A key fumble last year against Houston played a big part in the Texans’ comeback, and he nearly did it again. Only the quick thinking of offensive lineman Daryl Williams to jump on the ball after Allen was sacked by Denico Autry prevented disaster with three minutes on the clock. The Bills lost 23 yards on the play and were forced to give the ball pack to Philip Rivers and the Colts offense, but a last-ditch Hail Mary attempt fell incomplete, spoiling the Colts’ hopes for a comeback.

Buffalo will play either the Steelers or the winner of the Titans/Ravens game next week in the divisional round, again at home. They’re now further into the playoffs than they’ve been in Allen’s lifetime. But they haven’t had a quarterback like this since Kelly, and for the first time since that golden age of Buffalo football, nothing less than the Super Bowl will do for Allen and this new generation.