NFL playoffs: Bills defeat Ravens, advance to AFC championship game
Taron Johnson could’ve kept running into next week on a 101-yard interception that carried the Buffalo Bills to their first AFC championship game appearance in 27 years.
Johnson’s pick-six of Lamar Jackson’s pass with 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter secured a 17-3 win over the Baltimore Ravens in a divisional-round playoff game Saturday night.
“We’re excited. It’s not done yet, we’re not done yet,” Johnson exclaimed. “It’s just a blessing. Our defense stepped up to the challenge.“
The interception return matched the longest in NFL history and punctuated a stellar defensive outing in which Buffalo (15-3) limited the NFL’s top running offense to 150 yards in 32 carries.
Jackson was sacked four times and did not return after being evaluated for a concussion following the final play of the third quarter, and two plays after Johnson scored.
The season ended for the Rams and Jared Goff with Saturday’s playoff loss, but Goff played well and staked his claim to remaining the starting quarterback.
Facing second and 10 at Baltimore’s 25-yard line, center Patrick Mekari snapped the ball over Jackson’s head. The quarterback turned and chased the bouncing ball down inside the five, turned and quickly threw it away as Tremaine Edmunds had him by the legs and Trent Murphy fell on top of him.
Jackson’s injury left Tyler Huntley to finish the game after Huntley was promoted off the practice squad.
Buffalo’s defense took the pressure off a Josh Allen-led offense that was limited to 220 yards and made up for rookie kicker Tyler Bass missing two of three field-goal attempts — a 43-yarder that was wide right in the second quarter and a 44-yarder that sailed wide left with 5:30 remaining.
“I can’t say enough words for what that game was for our defense,” Allen said. “Taron Johnson’s is a play that people are going to remember for a long time here in Buffalo, potentially a franchise-altering play.”
The game was decided in the third quarter, when the Bills went up 10-3 on Allen’s three-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs to cap an 11-play, 66-yard opening drive.
The Rams’ season came to an end Saturday in a 32-18 loss to the top-seeded Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional playoffs at Lambeau Field.
Jackson responded by marching the Ravens 66 yards on 15 plays before throwing the interception while facing third and goal from the nine. Johnson jumped in front of the pass intended for tight end Mark Andrews and took off up the right sideline, following a lead block from Tre’Davious White.
Johnson wasn’t touched until a mob of Bills players jumped on his back and brought him down in the end zone.
The Bills advanced to the AFC championship game for the first time since January 1994 on their way to making — and losing — their fourth consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Buffalo also extended a season in which it has broken numerous droughts by claiming its first AFC East division title in 25 years and, with last week’s victory over Indianapolis, winning its first postseason game since the same year.
The Bills will play the winner of the AFC’s other divisional playoff game between Cleveland and Kansas City on Sunday.
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Buffalo has won eight straight games, matching its best streak since 1990. The 13 regular-season victories matched a franchise record set in both 1990 and 1991. They set numerous single-season records on offense this season, including scoring 501 points.
The fifth-seeded Ravens (12-6) saw their season come to an end after leading the NFL in yards rushing for a second consecutive year.
Baltimore clinched its third playoff berth in three years by winning its final five regular-season games. The winning streak came after a 1-4 skid capped by a 19-14 loss at Pittsburgh on Dec. 2 in a game rescheduled three times because of COVID-19 issues.
“It’s a sad moment, but this team has been through a lot,” Andrews said. “It’s tough right now, but teammates and coaches and camaraderie, it was a group of special guys that worked hard, came to work every day and didn’t take anything for granted. We’re going to hold our heads high and come back and work.”
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