ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — After the game, Sean McDermott bit his lower lip all over again, actually gnawed on it, while recalling the dangerous play.
“Yeah,” McDermott said, “run it down to zero on the clock and throw a touchdown.”
The frazzled coach’s whiskers turned grayer Saturday night over Josh Allen’s decision to drain eight seconds at the end of the first half and attempt a difficult throw rather than leave time for a go-ahead field goal.
“He’s lucky he made it out, lucky he threw a touchdown pass right there or else he and I were going to have a …” McDermott paused a beat to chew his lip some more.
“I would’ve probably flattened his tires maybe,” McDermott said, breaking into relieved laughter.
Allen might have been tired when he left Highmark Stadium, but he certainly wasn’t deflated.
The Buffalo Bills needed every second of Allen’s heroics — every dramatic play, every precious yard, every breath — to survive what would have been a gruesome loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Allen did all the things. He posted his best passing performance in two months, ran the ball as if Buffalo’s postseason hopes depended on it, took a dive to draw a penalty and made a dive to tie the game. Then he orchestrated the winning field-goal drive to beat Miami 32-29 and clinch the club’s fifth playoff berth in six seasons.
Allen threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns and ran nine times for 80 yards, not counting a kneel-down to center Tyler Bass’ 25-yard field goal as time expired.
In the fourth quarter, when the awaited snowstorm finally hit Highmark Stadium, he overcame a strip-sack to complete five of his seven throws for 45 yards and a touchdown to Dawson Knox, ran four times for 50 yards and made a Walter Payton leap over the goal line for the tying two-point conversion.
This was not the same Allen, whose dual-threat danger hadn’t come to a rolling boil for since mid-October. Since then, Allen was more measured than the player who began 2022 as the MVP favorite and backed it up with explosive highlights.
“I definitely noticed he felt a little better today,” Bills backup quarterback Case Keenum said. “But I hesitate to use the term ‘game manager’ and ‘Josh Allen’ in the same sentence. I mean, I wouldn’t even mention it.”
And maybe don’t mention the play at the end of the first half if you happen to run into McDermott over the holidays.
Eight seconds until intermission, Buffalo had third-and-goal at the 5-yard line. Allen rolled right, extended the play for as long as possible and then fired a low throw to rookie running back James Cook in the end zone. Cook’s cradling snag delivered a 21-13 halftime lead.
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“It’s either a really good play or a really stupid play,” Allen said. “I’m just thankful he came back to the ball and made a play on it. I threw it, and in my head I’m just, like, ‘I knew I wasted too much time. I know that there’s zero seconds on the clock.’
“I just kind of slid on the ground and laid there and waited for cheers. Thank God cheers came because you’ve got to have points before the half. I shouldn’t have put myself in that situation, but I found a way to make a play.”
Such was the case for Allen on a free-wheeling night when Buffalo’s defense struggled to make tackles and cover Miami’s potent receivers.
For two months, Bills targets not named Stefon Diggs failed to emerge with any consistency. Gabriel Davis and Isaiah McKenzie, counted upon to be influential in Ken Dorsey’s offense, have been erratic.
So concerned has the front office been with the lack of receiving depth that they dusted off John Brown, who hasn’t caught a pass in two years, and Cole Beasley, who retired in October after catching four balls for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Yet on Saturday night, the phrase “no depth” applied only to the non-existent lake-effect snowfall that had been forecasted.
That didn’t arrive until the fourth quarter, but from the game’s start, Allen completed a flurry of passes. By halftime, he had misfired on as many passes as he’d thrown for touchdowns. He diversified like Warren Buffett, completing throws to nine targets while going 16 of 22 for 217 yards and three touchdowns.
“When you get other guys involved in the game plan, sharing the wealth,” Allen said, “that’s what makes an offense scary and dangerous when at any point any of these guys can catch the ball and make a play.”
Allen’s six incomplete first-half passes included one purposeful throwaway and two Knox drops.
Backup tight end Quintin Morris caught his first NFL touchdown near the end of the first quarter. Running back Nyheim Hines scored his first receiving touchdown as a Bill with 8:18 left until halftime. Cook’s receiving TD was his first too.
Allen’s most efficient drive began after Jason Sanders kicked his second field goal to trim Buffalo’s lead to 7-6 early in the second quarter.
He looked like the infallible quarterback that made him the MVP favorite heading into the Week 7 bye — when all seemed right with the world — and before the offense began to sputter enough to give Bills fans hives.
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Allen completed six of his seven attempts, the lone blemish intentionally thrown out of bounds, for 67 of the 75 yards Buffalo traveled for the touchdown.
Allen involved five targets, getting Beasley his first catch, finding Davis deep over the middle for 21 yards on third-and-17 and teaming up with Diggs for another 20 yards to reach the red zone. Hines took care of the final 10 yards.
“We have a bunch of guys who can win against a lot of different coverages,” Keenum said. “The touchdown catch Quintin made was a difficult catch against NFL coverage. Dawson won in man. Gabe won in man. Cole and Isaiah made big plays on big drives.”
Knox scored the touchdown that preceded Allen’s two-point plunge with 9:02 remaining. Knox recorded game-highs with six catches for 98 yards, a magnificent development for Buffalo’s offense.
An ability to spread the ball around was critical to Buffalo’s success last year. On any given play, Allen could rely on different targets to get open.
Davis scored nine touchdowns after December. McKenzie detonated for 11 catches and 125 yards in a critical Week 15 victory over the New England Patriots. Beasley logged four 100-yard performances over his last nine regular-season games and had 88 yards in the playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Knox scored six touchdowns over an eight-game stretch into the postseason.
Saturday night was a fine time for Allen to reestablish such relationships.
This is where the rubber meets the road.
(Photo of Josh Allen: Gregory Fisher / USA Today)