The drought is done.
And amazingly, improbably, it’s over for the Buffalo Bills, whose 17-year streak of not making the postseason was the longest active one in this country’s four major professional sports.
“It’s a big time for Buffalo,” legendary Bills quarterback Jim Kelly said by phone Sunday night. “You have so many loyal and dedicated fans who come out in any kind of weather. I talked to my daughter tonight and I said, ‘Erin, you’re 22 years old, and you’ve never seen the Bills in the playoffs. It’s finally here.’”
The Bills not only needed to win at Miami, which they did, but also for Cincinnati to beat Baltimore. The Bengals came through with Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds left for a 31-27 victory.
Buffalo players, some tearful, watched the end of that game in the locker room and erupted with joy.
“It’s such an emotional moment," first-year coach Sean McDermott told reporters. "No one gave this team a chance all year long. Our fans have been great all season long and I’m looking forward to seeing them at our playoff game…
“I’m so excited for our players and fans. Everyone has sacrificed so much to be here. Thank you to the Bengals.”
Fresh starts are a hallmark of the 2017 playoffs, as eight of the 12 teams did not qualify last season. The only returners are New England, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Kansas City.
The Rams play host to the Falcons on Saturday night, facing the defending NFC champions who imploded in the second half of a Super Bowl loss to New England and barely made it back to the postseason. The Falcons, the only NFC team back in the playoffs, secured the No. 6 seed Sunday with a 22-10 victory over Carolina.
That means former USC coach Steve Sarkisian, Atlanta’s offensive coordinator, will be returning to the Coliseum. His counterpart on the Rams is offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who was the Falcons’ quarterbacks coach last year.
Former Rams coach Jeff Fisher was shown the door a year ago after a 42-14 loss to Atlanta at home. He was replaced by Sean McVay, the NFL’s leading coach of the year candidate, who was a star high school quarterback in the Atlanta area.
Wild-card weekend opens with Tennessee at Kansas City, the Titans clinching their first postseason bid since 2008 with a 15-10 victory over Jacksonville.
Both teams had roller coaster seasons. The Chiefs started 5-0, then lost six of seven, and finished by winning their last four. The Titans were 8-4 before losing three in a row, a slide that ended Sunday.
If that game comes down to a Tennessee field goal, it will be former Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop looking to boot his old team out of the postseason.
Speaking of reunions, when Jacksonville plays host to Buffalo on Sunday, Jaguars Coach Doug Marrone will be scheming against his former team. He resigned three years ago Sunday after he coached the Bills from 2013-14, exercising an out clause in his contract that was triggered by an ownership change.
The Bills also will be facing their onetime star defensive tackle, Marcell Dareus, who proved a disappointment before they traded him to Jacksonville in October.
“You can’t make this [stuff] up,” Dareus told reporters with a smile.
Both teams lost Sunday, with the Saints stumbling at Tampa Bay, 31-24 on a last-minute touchdown. Saints quarterback Drew Brees conceded the team was “a little solemn” after, but still sees the big picture.
“That was one we felt like we should have won,” he said. “But, bottom line is we are NFC South champions, and there's a lot to be proud of. It's been a long season. We've had our ups and downs at times. We've shown ourselves what is possible.”
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer