How will they “be back”? 4 ways the Buffalo Bills can avoid a hangover

Everyone assumes the Buffalo Bills will be back to the AFC title game, but we’ve heard that one way too many times in the past.

Toward the end of many NFL playoff contests, a mantra of the damned has become as much of a prevalent broadcast tradition as reminding viewers that Bob’s Burgers or 60 Minutes will be coming up next (except on the west coast, in the latter case). When time is low and the game’s outcome is no longer in doubt, time is often dedicated to the team who will have to wait until September to restart their Super Bowl trek. As the camera lingers on images of the downtrodden runners-up between plays, the announcers will often repeat some variation of the phrase “they’ll be back”.

The Buffalo Bills were the latest to hear the chants, as their magical 2020-21 season came to an end in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. Buffalo was no match for the Kansas City Chiefs’ title defense, falling in a 38-24 final in their first semifinal visit since 1994. During contentious final minutes defined by post-whistle extracurriculars, CBS broadcasters Jim Nantz and Tony Romo waxed poetic on the Bills, they of 13 wins and an AFC East title, assuring fans that the best was likely yet to come for a team that grew by leaps and bounds. The Buffalo locker room repeated the phrase as Kansas City celebrated their return trip to the Big Game.

“I have no doubt in my mind that we will be back,” quarterback Josh Allen said, per team reporter Jourdon LaBarber. “We’re still young and we’re only going to get better. That’s one thing I take from this. We’re close. The results weren’t good tonight but I’m super proud of how our team fought all season and how we bonded together.”

“Give the Kansas City Chiefs credit. They won, they were the better team tonight. But the Buffalo Bills will be back,” head coach Sean McDermott added in a postgame interview with CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn. “This is a learning experience. It’s a tough environment to play. We didn’t play our best game, we didn’t coach our best game, we’ll be back.”

But, if recent history has proven anything, this mantra has only led to more losing.

Losing the AFC title game can certainly serve as a springboard for future success. Kansas City, for example, hasn’t lost a postseason game since they fell to New England in the 2019 edition. But everyone brushed off the Jacksonville Jaguars’ loss to those same Patriots the year before as a mere stepping stone to something brighter. After all, they were armed with a youthful, fearsome defense featuring Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Yannick Ngakoue, and many others. It was only a matter of time before they made the next step, no?

In the three years since that epic run, Jacksonville has won a mere dozen games (including a single triumph this season) and will choose first in the upcoming NFL Draft. The Los Angeles Rams appeared ready to take over football after their own run that same season but wound up missing the playoffs in the NFC title defense. A “double doink” derailed the Chicago Bears. Even Super Bowl champions aren’t exempt from such hangovers. Only four years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles looked like a dynasty in the making. Now, they’re one of the least desirable situations in football. Doug Pederson has already been dismissed and Carson Wentz appears to be next.

How can the Bills avoid such a hangover? ESM investigates…

 Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Be Buffalo Bold

What eventually did Buffalo in during the AFC title game was their lack of assertiveness in Kansas City. If you want to beat the Chiefs, you have to be the Chiefs, a team so dedicated to securing the victory as quickly and cleanly as possible that they’re willing to throw with Chad Henne on a 4th-and-1 just two games away from the Super Bowl.

Before things got out of hand at Arrowhead, the Bills had several opportunities to assert their authority on the Chiefs and earn precious points on fourth-and-short situations. However, they opted for the relative safety of Tyler Bass field goals, but they proved meaningless when the defense failed to stop Kansas City’s high-voltage offense. The red dagger came when they chose to narrow the lead to 24-15 on a 26-yard Bass boot when three yards would’ve set first-and-goal in the latter stages of the third quarter. Tyreek Hill immediately made them pay with a 75-yard catch-and-run that set up Travis Kelce’s short score through underhanded mastery from Patrick Mahomes.

“Maybe if I had to do it over again, I would have went for maybe one of them,” McDermott said of the costly decisions to kick, per Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN. “But the one before the half, I wanted to get points. We were having trouble coming up with points, and I wanted to at least have something to show for it going into the half, especially knowing they were getting the ball after half. I’ll look back at that and reevaluate that, especially the one after half there, and as an entire team, we’ll learn from the experience.”

Making things all the more tragic from a football standpoint was the fact that the Bills were no stranger to such aggressiveness during this magical season. They tied with Miami for the best fourth-down conversion rate (albeit on only 10 attempts) and pulled one off on their opening possession, later leading to Bass’ first field goal. Hopefully for Buffalo, they took the missed opportunities as the learning experience McDermott alluded to.

 Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Lock the Block(ers)

The Bills are blessed with the multiple talents of Allen, who has proven capable of beating teams both through the air and on the ground. Blessed with such a prime, game-changing force of football nature, Buffalo must do everything in its power to protect him. Allen was sacked 34 times last season, the 10th-worst rate in football, but that tends to happen when you have a mobile quarterback. All in all, the Bills did a decent job, but it still feels like there are ways to improve.

Among the potential departures through free agency is tackle Daryl Williams, one of the most pleasant surprises amongst the league’s contenders. The former All-Pro was signed to an affordable one-year deal but wound up filling in very well for an injured Cody Ford late in the year. Interior regulars Jon Feliciano, Brian Winters, and Ike Boettger will all be free agents, while center Mitch Morse could be a salary cap casualty (over $4.8 million) as the team currently holds under $2 million in cap space.

Buffalo can’t afford any regression when it comes to their blocking help. It’s possible they could use the 30th pick on someone like Creed Humphrey out of Oklahoma to bolster the unit. If the biggest problem on the offense is the fact that the long-sought franchise quarterback has too much protection, you know you’re doing something right.

Lower the Flags

While the Bills tackled numerous streaks of futility in 2020, one unfortunate streak kept on rolling. With 102 penalties (941 yards lost) during the regular season (sixth in the league), the Bills ranked in the league’s top-ten flag drawers for the third straight season. While Buffalo’s penalty ledger was relatively clean against Kansas City (38 yards on a quartet), the final stages of the season were marred by post-whistle extracurriculars that only built the rivalry between the Bills and Chiefs further. Should the Chiefs prevail in their Super Bowl endeavor two Sundays from now (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS), no one would be surprised to see the Bills in the traditional opening Thursday night slot for the defending champions come Week 1 of 2021.

It was great to see the Bills stick up for each other once things got chippy in the final minutes, but it left a sour taste in Allen’s mouth. One of Buffalo’s last possessions ended with Allen taking a late hit from Chiefs lineman Alex Okafor. Allen tossed the ball at Okafor’s facemask, leading to the first of several late-game melees.

“The way it ended doesn’t sit right with me with how chippy and ticky-tack it got. I’m disappointed in myself,” Allen said per Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com. “I let my emotions get to me there. That’s not how you’re supposed to play football.”

 Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Figure Out the Rushing Stampede

The Bills have formed one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league through Allen, Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and others. But that doesn’t mean they have to solely rely on aerial antics to pull off wins. Over the past two seasons, the Bills are a mediocre 5-5 when Allen throws the ball at least 40 times. Two of those victories came in too-close-for-comfort showdowns with the New York Jets, while two of those losses came in the AFC playoffs (2020 Wild Card at Houston, 2021 AFC title game at Kansas City).

Sophomore rusher Devin Singletary regressed in several major rushing categories, working alongside the roller-coaster rookie antics of Zack Moss, who missed a majority of the postseason after leaving the Wild Card tilt on a cart. The two united for 1,168 yards and seven total touchdowns but struggled to maintain consistency. It’s good that the Bills have a relatively consistent rushing tandem, but they have to develop some true traction to avoid the risk of the offense becoming too shallow. Once Moss got injured, the Bills turned almost exclusively to passing. Singletary earned his first carry of the Divisional round late in the second quarter. Allen put up 88 yards against the Chiefs, but Singletary and T.J. Yeldon mustered only 32 on nine carries.

In another report from Parrino, McDermott flat out noted that “we got to be able to run the football better” after the AFC title game. If anyone in the NFL can do it all, it may well certainly be Allen, but that’s no reason to force him into such a situation.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: AFC title game is culmination of team efforts

The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs are armed with MVP QBs, but their AFC title trips were earned through team efforts.

Save for the argument over what constitutes a catch, no modern professional football argument gets more heated than that of Most Valuable Player.

In a perfect world, MVP would be awarded to the player who best personifies its middle initial. But the honor becomes a popularity contest, often awarded to the best-trending player on a winning team. The Super Bowl MVP Award named after Pete Rozelle is particularly guilty of this, evidenced by the accolades sent to, say, Ray Lewis in Super Bowl XXXV (four tackles, five pass breakups in a 34-7 win over the Giants). Other times, the award goes to the player with the best highlights or statistics. The NFL has thankfully steered clear of this, but there was something questionable when Alex Rodriguez took home MLB’s title after his Texas Rangers mustered 73 wins in 2003.

It’s a delicate question and one Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes might have to deal with at the virtual NFL Honors on February 6, a day before one of them partakes in Super Bowl LV. Each is expected to be up for the seasonal MVP award, but they’ll first do battle in the AFC Championship Game when Allen’s Buffalo Bills visit Mahomes’ Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday evening (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS).

The NFL, frankly, couldn’t have asked for a better “final four” as an uncanny season nears its end. This could be the first of several showdowns between Allen and Mahomes with a Super Bowl trip on the line, while the other side of the bracket features one of the last opportunities for us to see Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers go at is. Each thrower’s name will undoubtedly be brought up in the MVP conversation. If Mahomes takes home the title, it would be his second league MVP award after first earning for his efforts in the 2018 campaign.

But, frankly, if we are truly defining MVP…neither AFC competitor should take it home.

There’s no doubt that Allen and Mahomes have been integral to their respective sides’ success. The pair constantly battle for supremacy at the top of not only the NFL’s statistical ledgers but the SportsCenter Top 10 as well. There’s no way of knowing if we would have a Bills-Chiefs matchup on Sunday if you removed only Allen and Mahomes from the equation, but let’s just say both Buffalo and Kansas City are undoubtedly glad that they don’t have to figure it out.

But what makes the AFC title game matchup so intriguing is not only the Allen-Mahomes matchup…it’s the fact that the 2021 postseason tournament has left zero doubt that these are the two best teams in the conference. This is not a battle between the Allens and the Patricks; it’s a struggle between the Bills and Chiefs. Look no further than last week’s Divisional playoff action. When Allen and Mahomes were shown to be human…or at least the closest they’ll ever be to human, anyway…their teams rose to the occasion to have their backs.

The cruel winter of Orchard Park got to Allen last week, his trademark deep balls getting lost in the Western New York winds. All in all, Allen did manage to post respectable numbers (23-of-37, 206 yards, and a score), but they were still far from the figures Bills fans have grown accustomed to. Buffalo remains in such a precarious position, one where they could be regarded as Super Bowl contenders one week and also-rans the next by a football-loving public that refuses to look beyond a team’s most recent showing. But the Bills have shown how far they’ve come in Allen’s three seasons at the franchise quarterback helm. Over their first two seasons, the Bills were 6-13 in his first two seasons as a starter when he posted a passer rating under 90. That included a dismal showing in last season’s AFC Wild Card playoffs in Houston, a game in which he failed to lead the Bills into the end zone after scoring through trickery on their first possession.

To his credit, Allen has cut down on such games, turning himself into a bona fide star and franchise man. But Buffalo victories no longer flow solely through him.

The Bills’ Divisional victory over Baltimore earned a massive exclamation point through the efforts of Taron Johnson, one of several day three draft picks making a difference in the Orchard Park football revolution. Jerry Hughes, one of the longest-tenured Bills on the team, has earned multiple sacks in two of his last playoff contests, including two of the Ravens’ mobile throwers Lamar Jackson and Tyler Huntley last weekend. It was part of a stellar defensive effort reminiscent of the Bills’ 1992 AFC title game efforts, one where the offense struggled to the tune of a single field goal, but earned a 10-7 victory headlined by Carlton Bailey taking a John Elway interception back 11 yards for a majority of the Bills’ scoring.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Allen’s protection has been assisted by the rise of Daryl Williams, who took over for an injured Cody Ford over the final quarter of the season. Williams also recovered a crucial Allen fumble in the Wild Card triumph over Indianapolis. Opposing defensive attention may center on names like Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley, but the reserve receiving ranks include a 1,000-yard catcher in John Brown and a master of trickery in Isaiah McKenzie, not to mention rookie Gabriel Davis, who has become one of the most dangerous red zone targets in the league. In their tight end corps, Dawson Knox has joined Davis as a reliable target close to the goal line. Hughes’ partner in longevity, Lee Smith, has been one of the team’s most reliable blockers.

Shocked as the football world may be at the emergence of so many, Buffalo’s depth was of no surprise to head coach Sean McDermott or Diggs, one of the most impactful on-field contributors.

“You’ve got to be able to count on depth,” said head coach Sean McDermott, per team reporter Chris Brown. “You’ve got to have depth in this league, this year in particular, with not only injuries occurring but the virus, knocking people out. So, it’s highly critical.”

“I feel like we’ve got a lot of guys that can play well at the receiver position,” Diggs added in the same report. “A lot of guys can make plays, and not even just at the receiver position. Whether it’s (running back Devin Singletary) out wide or (Dawson) Knox out wide. It’s somebody that you’ve got to account for because guys can make plays on the outside. As far as lining up four wide, it isn’t just one of us out there. There’s a lot of us out there.”

On Sunday, the Bills face a team that has matched their team efforts, albeit having done so on a higher level thus far. Their six-year playoff streak is the longest active endeavor in football, one that began long before Mahomes’ arrival. There’s no denying that Mahomes, acquired through a pick the Bills sent to Kansas City, has brought the Chiefs to the next level, but the Chiefs have proven they’re equally dangerous if he’s unavailable for whatever reason.

When Mahome was forced to leave Kansas City’s Divisional tilt against Cleveland with a head injury, the insertion of Chad Henne could’ve led to certain doom for the Chiefs. Instead, not only did Henne wind up playing an integral role in the victory…in part thanks to head coach Andy Reid’s confidence in him, bringing the theme of a team effort full circle…but he was assisted by reserve rusher Darrel Williams, more than a year after Damien Williams took over Super Bowl LV while Mahomes struggled with the San Francisco defense. The defense also rose up to the occasion, holding Baker Mayfield and an upstart Browns offense to get no further than a 22-17 final.

“The thing I’m proudest about, is the guys persevering through and winning games. You kinda go back and look at the schedule you had and there’s some pretty good football teams that we the opportunity to play against. To be able to get yourself in a position to win each and every week, that’s pretty good, you’re headed in the right direction, at least,” Reid said of team unity on 610 Sports Radio (KCSP-AM) this week. “It’s tough enough to win one game in this league, let alone win 14 of them. I’m proud of them for that, maybe most of all, I’m proud that they’ve taken a humble approach to everything. They haven’t sat there beating their chest and said, “We’re the Super Bowl Champs and you can’t beat us. That’s not the way they’ve gone about it, they’ve not let up an inch on the process of getting ready to play each team.”

One team will emerge victorious on Sunday, advancing to Super Bowl LV. Not one player…but a team.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: A lesson to learn from each AFC champion

Thurman Thomas, Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills are back in the AFC title game for the first time in 27 years. What can they learn from those that came before them?

A lot of cherished memories from the 1990s seem to be making a comeback these days. If the Buffalo Bills play their cards right on Sunday, their appearances in the Super Bowl can join Saved by the Bell, The Matrix, and Dunkaroos.

For the first time since 1994, the Bills will partake in the AFC Championship Game, shipping off to Arrowhead Stadium to battle the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday evening (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS). Their last AFC title tilt appearance likewise came against the Chiefs, when earned a 30-13 win at RIch Stadium en route to Super Bowl XXVIII, the last of four consecutive Big Game appearances. In the long interim, Bills fans have continued to appreciate the efforts of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, and many, many others.

Over a quarter century later, worthy successors have finally risen in their place. Josh Allen has begun toppling Kelly’s franchise passing records. The tandem of Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley has emulated that of Reed and Don Beebe. Jerry Hughes has risen up in Smith’s place in pass rushing duties.

Speaking with Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News, Reed confirmed that he and his old teammates have been keeping up with the Bills victorious’ modern endeavors. The receiver was pleased to see that the young Western New Yorkers seemed to be eumulating those conference champion squads throughout their historic season.

“It takes you back in a lot of ways, because they’re scoring a lot of points,” Reed said. “They are taking a lot out of the book of our teams, and I’m sure Sean McDermott has referenced us many times during the season and the last four years he’s been there. They’ve got a quarterback that, from one year to the next, has just made a complete turnaround. And they’ve got the weapons. I just think they’ve got everybody that that front office wanted to get. You can get all the pieces you want, but if they don’t work in the system, it really doesn’t matter.”

In honor of the Bills’ big day, ESM looks back on what the present Bills can learn from the champions of the past, as they seek to reach the first of what they hope is far more than a mere four consecutive Super Bowls…

1990-91: Keep up the pace

With their propensity for big yardage and scoring outputs, the 1990 Bills wouldn’t be out of place in the modern NFL, one that worships the offensive side of the ball. One of the ways Buffalo turned up the heat on their opponents was an uptempo attack that wore defenses down. Even when the New York Giants neutralized the offense by holding the ball for over 40 minutes in Super Bowl XXV, the Bills were able to quickly set themselves up for a game-winning field goal attempt when they got the ball back at their own 10 with 2:16 to go in the game.

Kelly confirmed in December that he had gone over his no-hiddle endeavors with modern offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. The Hall-of-Fame said that the Bills’ current setup makes them a good fit for an up-tempo setting.

“I got to spend a lot of time with Brian last year we got together and sat and watched film when I was playing with our no huddle offense,” Kelly said, per a report from team reporter Chris Brown. “Looking at some of the plays that I ran a lot because I liked them and they were an easy read and you can utilize all your receivers that you need to especially the one-on-ones that I had with James Lofton and Andre Reed. And Josh now has (Cole) Beasley, (John) Brown and of course (Stefon) Diggs.”

1991-92: Defense (still) wins championships

No one’s denying that the Bills are prepared for a shootout with the Chiefs. But while NFL scoreboards routine reach the 30s these days, there have been plenty of examples where the value of a strong defense has come to the forefront. After all, we’re two years from the slugfest in Super Bowl LIII that saw the Patriots take a 13-3 decision from the Rams.

The Bills were sure to keep their defense up to par, and far beyond it, during their conference dominance. Their uptempo offensive antics were brought back in their first AFC title defense, once again leading the league in yardage and finishing second in scoring. But after easily handling Kansas City in the Divisional round, they ran into a determined Denver Broncos team that would allow only a late Scott Norwood field goal in the championship game.

Their defense, however, took care of a potent Denver. The Broncos invaded Buffalo territory on each of their first five possessions, but crucial sacks and stops forced them into uncomfortable situations. Buffalo recovered only one of four Denver fumbles, but it led to longer field goal attempts for David Treadwell, who missed each of his three chances. Carlton Bailey provided the biggest scoring chunk of the afternoon with an 11-yard touchdown through a John Elway interception.

Today, the Bills defense has apparently saved their best for last. When Allen’s usual passing antics were stifled by Orchard Park’s winds during last week’s Divisional round, they likewise held their opponent, Baltimore, in check and provided a death blow through a pick-six. Taron Johnson’s return as a little bit longer than Bailey’s going 101 yards for the clincher in a 17-3 win.

1992-93: Contributions can come from all over the depth chart

We’ve seen countless promising seasons derailed through an injured quarterback, particularly in the latter stages of the season. This postseason was no exception, as we saw John Wolford and Taylor Heinicke start games on the NFC side when Jared Goff and Alex Smith were respectively sidelined with late ailments. The 1992-93 Bills are, of course, best known for “The Comeback”, the rally from 35-3 down against the Houston Oilers in the AFC Wild Card round. That historic march was overseen by Frank Reich after Kelly went down with a Week 17 injury. Reich came up big against in the Divisional win over Pittsburgh with two touchdown passes, but he wasn’t the only reserve who rose up. Kenneth Davis tallied 104 yards when the Steelers’ defense bottled up Thomas, while Cliff Hicks earned a sack. The latter earned an interception a week later against Miami in the AFC title game.

Josh Allen is (knock on wood) ready to go for Sunday’s visit to Kansas City, but some unsung heroes have helped fuel the ongoing Buffalo playoff run. Johnson not only had last week’s runback, but his crucial takedown of Jonathan Taylor on third-and-goal at the one helped change the course of the Wild Card victory over the Colts two weeks ago. Daryl Williams has not only been serviceable in replacing the injured Cody Ford, but he earned a crucial fumble recovery in that Wild Card triumph. When John Brown and mastery of trickery Isaiah McKenzie are perhaps your fourth and fifth viable options at receiver, you know you have a deep squad. Head coach Sean McDermott noted the importance of having such a deep unit in a year affected by unprecedented obstacles prior to the playoffs.

“You’ve got to be able to count on depth,” McDermott said, via Chris Brown. “You’ve got to have depth in this league, this year in particular, with not only injuries occurring but the virus, knocking people out. So, it’s highly critical.”

1993-94: Go all out, because you never know when you’ll be back

By the 1993 season, many had tired of the Bills’ schtick. While Norwood’s memorable miss capped off a one-point loss against the Giants, Buffalo’s next two visits to the Super Bowl were one-sided affairs, falling to Washington in a 37-24 debacle that was never really close and avoiding Super Bowl infamy only through Beebe’s strip of a showboating Leon Lett in a 52-17 defeat at the hands of Dallas.

But as the situation became more dire at the Rose Bowl against the Cowboys, likely sending the anti-Bills factions into full fury, Kelly reportedly turned to pass rusher Jeff Wright and suggested they make the return trip yet again.

“We laughed and had a couple of drinks over it,” Wright said in a report from Jerry Sullivan of WIVB. “By God, we did it.”

The Bills defied the doubters, many of whom were questioning players’ efforts and abilities. Those partially died down when they earned a 13-10 upset win over the Cowboys in Irving. Afterwards, they once again posted a dominant effort, capturing the top seed in the AFC once more and winning their last six games prior to Super Bowl XXVIII. Another loss to Dallas awaited, but the Bills’ camaraderie and strength was unmatched.

Thomas, one of the biggest targets after the 1992 season, capped it off with one of the most dominant performances in conference championship history. He tallied 186 yards and three as the Bills crushed the Chiefs 30-13.

“We were a force to be reckoned with. You had to bring your breakfast, your lunch, your dinner and a snack for afterwards, because we were going to be there playing football for 60 minutes,” Thomas said in Sullivan’s report. He seems to feel that the modern Bills have the same brand of hunger and intensity going into Sunday.

“They have that same confidence in who they are and what their abilities are. You can tell they’re having fun. Like us, these guys love going over there to the facility and practicing and being around the guys. And that’s how you bring a great team together.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Three reasons why this isn’t the same team from October

The Kansas City Chiefs topped the Buffalo Bills in one-sided fashion back in October, but a lot has changed in Orchard Park.

Why is the NFL even bothering to play the AFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon? We already saw what a nationally televised matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS) had to offer back in October.

The Monday late afternoon tilt in Orchard Park (wth health protocols moving the game from its original Thursday night slot) wasn’t as close as the 26-17 margin in Kansas City’s advantage indicated. The defending champion Chiefs outgained Buffalo 466-206 and Josh Allen’s box score (14-of-27, 122 yards) was conjured from the sweetest dreams of his detractors. To make things even scarier, the Chiefs’ comfortable victory came with megastar Patrick Mahomes posting relatively pedestrian numbers (225 yards, two scores). Mahomes’ status for Sunday remains in question after he left last week’s Divisional round victory with a head injury.

With their loss, combined with a listless showing in Nashville the week prior, the Bills had apparently missed their chance to prove why they belonged amongst the NFL’s elite. Sure, they were content to win an AFC East featuring the woebegone Jets, declining Patriots, and developing Dolphins, but keys to the AFC penthouse would have to wait, granted only to Kansas City and their guests from Tennessee and Pittsburgh.

But a lot has changed since October. Vaccines to combat the ongoing health crisis were still in the development stages. In the Star Wars galaxy, Grogu was still known as “Baby Yoda” and, as far as we knew, Boba Fett was still in the belly of the Sarlacc.

The Bills, meanwhile, have cleaned themselves up…

 Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Their offense has gotten better at controlling the game

Offensive control goes far beyond the yardage battle, though the BIlls are handling their business in that department. Since putting up only 206 against the Chiefs in October, the Bills broke the 300-yard mark in each of their next 11 games, a streak that ended in the Orchard Park winds of the Divisional playoff victory over Baltimore. In that span, Buffalo eclipsed 400 six times, including a whopping 534 in their playoff-clinching win over Denver.

Perhaps more important, however, is what Buffalo can do in the time of possession affairs. When one leads such a battle, it means their offense is still on the field and that the opponent’s unit…in this case, one featuring Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and other scoring titans…can only watch from the sidelines.

If any franchise knows the value of winning the time of possession column, it’s the Buffalo Bills. Scott Norwood’s memorable miss in Super Bowl XXV could’ve been avoided bad the Bills had held the ball for more than 20 minutes. The New York Giants, reduced to a backup quarterback, methodically milked the clock with a rushing attack headlined by MVP Ottis Anderson. They wound up keeping the ball for over two-thirds of game time (40:33) to secure a 20-19 victory. The Giants kept their offense on the field while Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and Co. could only helplessly look on.

The modern Bills have appeared to have taken that lesson to heart. Though they’ve lost the battle in each of their postseason pair thus far, odds considerably tilt to their favor when they hold the ball longer. The Bills are 6-0 when they hold the ball for at least 33 minutes, notably keeping it for 41:17 in their Week 1 win over the Jets. In contrast, Buffalo had only 22:15 of offense during their prior excursion against the Chiefs. Winning the TOP struggle has proven effective in neutralizing a Mahomes offense before. Kansas City has lost nine games with Mahomes under center since he took over the starting role in 2018. The Chiefs have lost the time of possession battle in all but one of those games. Included in the negative tally is their overtime defeat to New England in the 2018-19 AFC Championship Game.

(Photo: Getty)

They’ve cracked down on opposing rushing efforts

How did Kansas City manage to look so dominant with Mahomes looking uncharacteristically average? Simple…they’re known as the Kansas City Chiefs, not the Kansas City Mahomes (more on this from a Buffalo standpoint later).

The Chiefs have built their new NFL dominion through a team effort. Though Mahomes has obviously played a role in the Chiefs’ ongoing success, new heroes have surfaced in times of trouble. Sub-Mahomes efforts, or even his medical-induced disappearances, are not immediate causes for on-field panic. Kansas City’s run game has routinely stepped up when Mahomes is held in check. That was true during the early stages of last year’s Super Bowl, as Damien Williams put up 104 rushing yards and the final two touchdowns in the 31-20 victory. When Mahomes had to leave the Divisional proceedings against Cleveland, the unrelated Darrel Williams put up 47 yards on seven carries to help take the pressure and load off backup Chad Henne, ticking precious time off the clock in the process.

In the first Buffalo meeting, it was first-round rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire who rose up with 161 yards on the ground, while Darrel Williams put in a second-half touchdown that gave the Chiefs a two-possession lead. If Mahomes plays but isn’t at 100 percent on Sunday in Missouri, there’d be little surprise in

But the Bills defense has cracked down since Edwards-Helaire’s Western New York stampede. While it’s still not at a level they’re truly satisfied with the betterment has nonetheless played a role in their success. Only two rushers (Damien Harris and Kenyan Drake) have gotten to the century mark since Edwards-Helarie’s infantile career day at 102 and 100 respectively. They additionally held another stud rookie rusher, Jonathan Taylor, to under four yards a carry during their Wild Card victory over Indianapolis (21 carries, 78 yards). Buffalo later held Baltimore’s top-ranked run game in check in the Divisional round, allowing no rushers greater than 15 yards from Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins, and Lamar Jackson.

“We said, OK, we’re going to dare them to stay with the run game, and lo and behold, they stayed with it, and had a lot of success running the football,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of the October game, per Jourdon LaBarber of BuffaloBills.com. “You know, we learned a lot from that ballgame, hopefully some lessons that will help us going forward, but that was the strategy going into game. We’ll have to find a balance, do a better job against the run than we did in that first encounter.”

 Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

They’ve improved far beyond Josh Allen

In a cruelly ironic twist, would an MVP Award for Josh Allen actually hurt the Bills?

In a perfect world, distribution of Most Valuable Player awards would truly live up to its definition. But it too often simply goes to the best players on the best team or relies solely on stats. Magnificent as Mahomes has been, Kansas City has shown that they’re more than capable of competing when a backup quarterback like Henne or Matt Moore has to take the reins.

Since his drafting in 2018, the Bills fortunes have been perceived as rising and falling through the play of Allen. That’s ridiculously unfair in a sport that relies so heavily on team antics, but those who believe in such philosophies had evidence through Allen’s shortcomings. Over his first two seasons, Buffalo posted a 6-13 record when Allen posted a passer rating of 90 worse. That tally included his 69.5 posting in the Bills’ Wild Card defeat in Houston last year.

Granted, Allen has improved himself to the point where he’s not posting these kinds of numbers on a regular basis. Additionally, his jaw-dropping highlight reels often speak for themselves. But, as mentioned above, the 2020 version of Allen has gotten by with a little help from his friends. Buffalo’s record now stands at a much more tolerable 4-3 when Allen’s passer rating is at that precipice. A perfect example came last week against Baltimore in the Divisional tilt. By typical 2020-21 standards, the game was a struggle for the Bills offense, which put up only 220 yards and 17 first downs.

The defense, however, had Allen’s back, upping the pressure on Jackson and providing the most crucial score through Taron Johnson’s 101-yard interception return for a touchdown. They likewise added four sacks, including two from Jerry Hughes, his second multi-sack game in his last three postseason contests. Momentum-shifting turnovers have been nothing new in Buffalo. Since picking up only one in the Kansas City loss, the Bills have earned multiple turnovers in six games.

As for blocking, Allen’s pocket has been relatively clean, having been sacked four times in the two playoff showings. When the pressure has raised a few octaves, to the tune of a pair of fumbles that could’ve shifted the courses of those games, but Darryl Williams and Dion Dawkins each came up big with recoveries.

In short, since their pair of defeats…the Bills could well have been holding a 12-game winning streak if not for Kyler Murray’s miracle…the Bills are providing a whole new meaning to “All-22”. Time will tell if it’ll be enough to topple the budding dynasty in Kansas City. But it won’t come through relying solely on the prescience of Allen.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills fans come through for Lamar Jackson after Divisional battle

After a hard-fought battle with Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, Buffalo Bills fans came through in droves to support his charity.

The Buffalo Bills weren’t in a giving mood during the AFC Divisional playoffs, as they didn’t turn the ball over in their 17-3 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Their fanbase, on the other hand, was another story.

Shortly after Buffalo wrapped up their first visit to the AFC Championship Game since 1994, the base known as Bills Mafia came through in droves for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Bills supporters began donating to one of Jackson’s favorite charities, Louisville-based “Blessings in a Backpack”, many in increments of eight dollars, matching the number on Jackson’s Ravens jersey.

“Our donation box just started flooding with donations from Bills fans for Lamar,” Chief Marketing Officer Nikki Grizzle said in a report from Mike Reiss of ESPN. “It’s just been overwhelming, in the best possible way.”

Grizzle told Reiss that, as of Sunday afternoon, over $240,000 have come in for the charity since Saturday’s game. The collaborative gesture from Bills Mafia is an act of goodwill toward the injured Jackson, who left Saturday’s game early with a head injury. Jackson first became affiliating with the charity during his days at the University of Louisville and has remained active in its endeavors, routinely making monetary or memorabilia donations. Blessings in a Backpack’s mission statement is defined on their website as “(mobilizing) communities, individuals, and resources to provide food on the weekends for elementary school children across America who might otherwise go hungry”.

Bills Mafia, perhaps best known for their gameday antics, has become well knows for its philanthropy for both Buffalo representatives and their opponents in recent years. After the 2017 regular season finale, Bills fans donated over $415,000 to Andy Dalton’s personal foundation after the then-Cincinnati Bengals quarterback led a game-winning drive to defeat the Ravens, helping the Bills clinch their first playoff berth since the 1999-2000 season. The fans haven’t forgotten their own athletic heroes, famously coming through for quarterback Josh Allen through donations to the Oishei Children’s Hospital after the passing of his grandmother. Further information on donations to Blessings in a Backpack can be found here.

The Bills will continue their Super Bowl trek on Sunday evening, taking on the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: It’s time to give Todd Bowles another shot at head coaching

If the NFL is going to continue to hire retreads, former New York Jets boss Todd Bowles undoubtedly deserves another opportunity.

The NFL is full of unusual phenomena. For example, fans rue the creation of the fumble/touchback rule seen in Sunday’s AFC Divisional playoff action. A team based in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex partakes in the NFC East competition.

But perhaps the NFL’s most bizarre trend is trying to force a square peg into a round hole and trying to make the same few names work in different places.

The New York Jets recently went through this trend with Adam Gase, hiring him in 2019 after a modest tenure with Miami. Despite Gase’s losing record (23-25 and one forgettable playoff appearance) and a propensity for his pupils to succeed elsewhere (Ryan Tannehill, Kenyan Drake), the Jets were convinced that he was the missing ingredient and perfect overseer of Sam Darnold’s developmental years. Two years and nine wins later, Gase is gone and the Jets are in even more dire straits.

This time around, the Jets opted for a fresh face in former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, whose hiring was announced last week. But while they opted for a new face, some of their NFL brethren didn’t seem to get the message. Jason Garrett rewrote the definition of football mediocrity in Dallas but that didn’t stop the Los Angeles Chargers from granting him an interview. Before Saleh’s hire, the Jets interviewed Marvin Lewis, owner of the most inexplicable 16-year head coaching tenure in NFL history. The Dallas Cowboys gave Mike McCarthy control of their future after the former Packers foreman reached a mere single Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers in tow. Though the concept appears to be slowly dying off, it’s particularly frustrating to see some claim that Eric Bieniemy doesn’t “interview well” while Bill O’Brien did. Sure, sometimes a change in the narrative is possible, but for every Pete Carroll, there are multiple Hue Jacksons.

If the retread trend is going to continue, those who deserve redemption should get another shot. Former Jets boss Todd Bowles has more than earned the right. The owner of a Super Bowl ring from his endeavors with Washington, Bowles is now a win away from earning a return trip as the defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His unit will have their work cut out for them as they face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Sunday’s NFC title game (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox).

Obviously, Bowles’ next head coaching opportunity won’t come in a New York reunion, but rumors have surfaced that he will interview for the Philadelphia Eagles’ vacancy this week. Like Saleh, Bowles’ modern hiring was a risk with the Jets back in 2015 and it’s a risk today with the modern NFL’s worship of a deity known as fantasy football. But in this world where the “over” is routinely hit and goal-to-go situations can be created through merely breathing on a receiver, Bowles is doing anything he can to prove that defense still wins championships. So far, he’s succeeding.

Tampa Bay’s late surge, winners of six in a row after health protocols, has coincided with Bowles’ defense coming up with big plays. They’ve forced multiple turnovers in three of their last four games and have let up less than 300 passing yards in each of that quartet. The magnum opus was Sunday’s NFL Divisional playoff tilt in New Orleans, when the Buccaneers forced four game-changing turnovers in a 30-20 win. In a game headlined by Drew Brees and Tom Brady, Bowles made sure that the true difference-makers were Devin White and Antonie Winfield Jr.

Those four steals perhaps weren’t even the most impressive turnovers of the evening, but rather the growth that Bowles’ unit made from their last tilt with New Orleans. In a nationally televised visit to Cigar City, the Saints tallied 38 points and 420 yards in a one-sided victory. Tampa Bay let up only 294 yards and 20 points on Sunday, with two of the New Orleans scoring drives netting less than 50 yards.

“I think the No. 1 thing is (that) Todd Bowles said we were going to be feisty,” White, he of 11 tackles, an interception, and the recovery of Winfield’s forced fumble on Sunday, said in a report from Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. “We were going to challenge those guys. He’s said he’s going to take us over them. I know we might be young, but we can get after it when we get our mindset to it. Everybody was saying, where’s the Tampa Bay defense from the Green Bay game? We were really feisty and challenging them at the line of scrimmage and really getting after the quarterback, and we had the same mentality.”

White’s reference to Tampa’s conference title game opponent stemmed from a stellar showing at home back in October. Tampa defenders earned five sacks of Rodgers and limited Green Bay to 201 yards in a 38-10 blowout victory.

Bowles’ success in his Tampa Bay role, having joined Bruce Arians’ staff in 2019, could well be a case of being a brilliant coordinator whose skills as a head coach fall short. We’ve seen it throughout recent history in examples like Steve Spagnuolo, Wade Phillips, and Josh McDaniels, among others. After their respective rough patches at the helm, they have each established themselves as championship coordinators, and there’s no shame in that. But for his role in shutting down some of the more potent offenses in football, a task rendered brutal by the love of offense in today’s league, Bowles deserves a chance to prove he can go beyond coordination.

If Bowles’ on-field performance isn’t an indicator of why he’s so worthy of a second chance, it’s the love his players have bestowed upon him. If a team is looking for a new head coach, it usually means there are some raw feelings flowing through the organization. A unifier like Bowles could be just the antidote to quell these feelings, if only for a short while.

Sure, Bowles’ tenure seems only sweet in the lens of a New York retrospect because the Gase era was so brutal. The Jets went 24-40 in four seasons under his supervision and even the one season of progress…his 2015 debut…is remembered best for one of the most heartwrenching memories in recent New York memory, the ugly Week 17 loss in Buffalo that cost the team a rare playoff spot. But there was no denying that Bowles was beloved by his players, who lauded him with accolades upon receiving news of his exit.

“I hate to see the news,” linebacker Avery Williamson, traded to Pittsburgh in 2020, said in the aftermath. “He’s a great person, great coach. I feel like he definitely helped get my game up to another level this year. He definitely taught me a whole lot of plays.”

Compared to the de facto restrained jubilation in the wake of Gase’s departure, Bowles’ ousting a solemn occasion in New York. The firing was flipping to a new chapter that no one wanted to turn to.

“To come up short and to hear the news that Coach Bowles wasn’t going to be here anymore, it (stinks),” quarterback Sam Darnold added. “I think Coach Bowles, his type of leadership, he showed me that you can just be you and people will respect that. as long as you come in and be the same person day in and day out. He showed me how to lead and that it’s possible to lead that way.”

Much as we, the football-loving public, will continue to turn to the NFL to get our professional fix, it will continue to do things and make moves that shock and perplex us. The powers that be should make sure that Todd Bowles being denied a second opportunity at head coaching, one granted to countless others, isn’t one.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills headed to Kansas City for AFC title game

The Buffalo Bills will run into a familiar foe for their first AFC Championship Game appearance since 1994.

It would appear not much has changed in the American Football Conference after 27 years.

With the AFC Divisional playoffs decided, the Buffalo Bills will meet the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2020-21 AFC Championship Game. The game will be the latter segment of the NFL’s conference championship Sunday situation. It will kick off at 6:40 p.m. ET at Arrowhead Stadium and air nationally on CBS.

Buffalo (15-3) clinched their ticket to the AFC title game with a 17-3 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night, anchored by Taron Johnson’s 101-yard interception return for a touchdown and a three-yard scoring hookup between Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. Meanwhile, the defending champion Chiefs (15-2) made their 2021 postseason debut on Sunday, topping the Cleveland Browns by a 22-17 final. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce united for 219 receiving yards on 16 receptions, with the latter scoring a touchdown.

The Bills and Chiefs met once this season in Orchard Park, with Kansas City prevailing in a 26-17 decision. Buffalo was held to a season-low 206 yards in defeat, while rookie rusher Clyde Edwards-Helaire had 161 yards for Kansas City. The matchup was initially set to be held on a Thursday night but was moved to the following Monday after Buffalo’s prior opponent, Tennessee, experienced COVID-19 complications.

Buffalo and Kansas City previously met in the 1993-94 AFC Championship, with Buffalo earning a 30-13 victory to advance to Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta, clinching their ticket to the last of four straight Super Bowl appearances. Thurman Thomas stole the show, earning 186 yards and three scores on the ground. This will mark the third time that the Bills and Chiefs will meet with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Kansas City earned a ticket to the original Super Bowl, then known as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, with a 31-7 win over the Bills in the 1966-67 AFL Championship. The two sides also met in the 1991-92 Divisional round, with Buffalo prevailing 37-14.

As the hype for the conference title game begins, the major headlines will likely center on the status of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The defending Super Bowl MVP earned two scores in the Sunday victory over Cleveland (one on the ground, one in the air) but was forced out of the game after taking a tough hit that put him in concussion protocol. Veteran backup Chad Henne stepped in and managed things well, completing 6-of-8 passes for 66 yards. Henne threw an interception but later came up big on Kansas City’s final drive, with his 13-yard rush and five-yard toss Tyreek Hill clinching the game for the Chiefs.

Arrowhead Stadium is now set to host the AFC title game for the third consecutive season. The Chiefs fell to New England in 2019 before topping Tennessee last year. Buffalo’s last playoff triumph on the road came in January 1993, when won in Miami to advance to Super Bowl XXVII.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Three stars from Saturday’s win vs. Baltimore

The Buffalo Bills are headed to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1994 after a dominant second half against Baltimore.

A celebration 27 years in the making commenced in Orchard Park on Saturday night.

Stefon Diggs earned 106 yards on eight receptions, one of which went for a score, while cornerback Taron Johnson returned an interception 101 yards for another. Both scores came in the third quarter and allowed the Bills (15-3) to pick up a 17-3 lead over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional playoffs.

The Bills now awaited the winner of the other leg of the AFC Divisional round, with the matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns set to go down on Sunday (3:05 p.m. ET, CBS). If Cleveland wins, the conference championship will be held at Orchard Park, while the Bills will hit the road if Kansas City triumphs.

ESM has three stars who played a major role in Saturday’s game…

3rd Star: WR Stefon Diggs

Stefon Diggs and the Divisional playoff round…after the Minneapolis Miracle and providing the biggest offensive spark on Saturday, it’s hard to find a better combination. Josh Allen wasn’t his usual 2020-21 self, but captured a semblance of it with Diggs, particularly during the game-changing 66-yard drive to open the second half. Facing a brutal 2nd-and-16 after a Pernell McPhee sack, Allen went to Diggs for a 20-yard gain that put the Bills back in Baltimore territory. After some collaboration with Devin Singletary, Allen found Diggs for the score that gave the Bills the lead for good, a three-yard pass to make it a 10-3 game.

2nd Star: CB Taron Johnson

Johnson may not be a household name quite yet, but arguably no one has done more to shift postseason momentum to the Buffalo side than Johnson. One week ago during the Wild Card round, Johnson’s crucial goal-line tackle of Jonathan Taylor on third-and-goal led to a turnover-on-downs and prevented Indianapolis from taking a scary two-possession lead. This time around, Johnson’s shifting became NFL history, as he took back a Lamar Jackson interception 101 yards for a touchdown, tying an NFL playoff record that George Teague held by himself for 27 years.

1st Star: DE Jerry Hughes

One of the Bills’ rare leftovers from their 17-year playoff drought…which becomes more distant of a memory with each passing victory…Hughes played a major role in making Jackson and the Baltimore run game feel uncomfortable. Hughes posted his second multi-sack playoff game in Buffalo (his first coming during their postseason cameo in Houston last year) with two takedowns and two other quarterback hits. The latter category might’ve been even bigger than his sacks. One play before Johnson’s pick-six to glory, pressure from Hughes forced Jackson to rush his pass to a wide-open Marquise Brown. The resulting incompletion paved the way for Johnson to make history and for the Bills’ conference title game dreams become an even truer reality.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

WATCH: CB Taron Johnson makes history, shifts momentum to Buffalo

Johnson made NFL history with a 101-yard defensive score, giving the Buffalo Bills a two-score lead in the Divisional tilt vs. Baltimore.

The AFC Divisional playoff tilt between the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens failed to live up to its high-profile offensive billing through nearly three quarters. But the Bills defense was happy to make up for it.

Shortly after the Bills took a 10-3 lead through an 11-play, 66-yard drive that ended on a three-yard connection between Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, Baltimore looked poised to knot things up with a long drive of their own. But on the 15th play, Bills cornerback Taron Johnson kept the momentum in the Western New York corner with NFL history. Johnson’s interception, taking a pass intended for tight end Mark Andrews wound up going coast-to-coast, a 101-yard return to glory for a pick-six that shook Orchard Park to its core. Johnson’s triple-digit runback ties the longest interception return in NFL history, uniting with George Teague of Green Bay, who accomplished the feat during the 1994 NFC Wild Card round against Detroit.

Should Buffalo hang on for the win, this would arguably be the second consecutive week where a big play from Johnson permanently put momentum on the Bills’ side. Last weekend in Indianapolis, Johnson stopped Jonathan Taylor from scoring on third-and-goal, one yard away from the Buffalo end zone. Had Taylor scored, the Colts would’ve had 17-6 lead late in the first half. The big stop led to a turnover-on-downs on the next play, with Buffalo taking the game by a 27-24 final. Johnson is in the midst of his third season with the Bills, chosen in the fourth round of the 2018 draft.

Buffalo continues to hold a 17-3 lead on the Ravens in the fourth quarter. The winner of Saturday’s game will battle the winner of Sunday’s tilt between Kansas City and Cleveland (3:05 p.m. ET, CBS) in the AFC title game.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

Buffalo Bills: Greg Roman ready for snowy return to Orchard Park

Roman’s redemption could officially culminate with a playoff win over the Buffalo Bills, the team that set him on his current path in 2016.

As an Atlantic City native, Greg Roman probably knows all about rags-to-riches stories. He’s well on his way to penning his own and can gain a quantum of revenge along the way.

A spotlight will shine on both Roman and his compatriot in offensive coordination Brian Daboll on Saturday night, as the former’s Baltimore Ravens visit Western New York to battle the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional playoffs (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC). The powerful offenses of both Buffalo and Baltimore will face off against not only opposing defenses but a second opponent of Mother Nature. Orchard Park’s Saturday weather forecast heralds an 80 percent chance of snow on Saturday with winds reaching 15-25 miles per hour. This could present a problem for the Bills (second in the NFL at 396.4 yards per game) and the Ravens (NFL-best 191.9 rushing yards per game) and their high voltage offenses.

Earlier this week, Roman talked about what sort of an impact the snow could have on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. The multi-threat and most recent NFL MVP put up 315 total yards in Baltimore’s AFC Wild Card victory over Tennessee last Sunday afternoon.

“The snow will be much easier for him to deal with than some of the heavy sheets of rain, some of the torrential downpours we’ve played in the last couple of years,” Roman said, per Aaron Kasinitz of Penn Live. “Those are the games that really, really impact it. Snow? Not so much. Wind? Yes; wind can be a major factor.”

“I definitely think (the snow) can aid somebody with his skillset…as far as the footing of the people trying to corral him.”

Roman knows all about Buffalo winters. The long-tenured NFL assistant coach spent 18 games as the Bills’ offensive boss over the 2015-16 seasons under Rex Ryan. In one of the more controversial in-season firings in recent memory, Roman was dismissed from the Bills’ staff shortly after a nationally televised loss to the New York Jets in Week 2 of the 2016 campaign. The ousting came after the Bills tallied 393 yards of offense in a 37-31 defeat.

He wasn’t out of the NFL for long, as John Harbaugh came calling in the ensuing offseason, calling Roman to oversee the Ravens’ tight ends for two seasons before his promotion to offensive coordinator in 2019. Roman previously work with Harbaugh’s brother Jim for six seasons at both Stanford University and the San Francisco 49ers.

By now, there’s use in talking about revenge. There’s little leftover from the Ryan days in Buffalo and Roman already made the return to WNY last season when Baltimore took a 24-17 decision in December. Despite being held to only 257 total yards as a team, the Ravens broke through thanks to three scoring passes from Jackson.

Roman’s work with Jackson has earned acclaim and has put him on the shortlist of teams searching for new head coaches. Choosing to center the Baltimore offense around Jackson’s talents both through the air and on the ground, Roman has kept the Ravens in contention since the team moved on from franchise staple Joe Flacco during the 2018 season. Jackson has hit the height of his powers under Roman, with their magnum opus to date likely being last week’s showing in Nashville.

Buffalo is set to counter with their dynamic offensive pair of Daboll and Josh Allen, who have likewise hit new heights together in Orchard Park. Approximately 24 hours before Jackson earned his first playoff victory, Allen likewise broke his own, brief streak of postseason futility, putting up 378 yards and three total scores in the Bills’ 27-24 victory over Indianapolis. With Allen listed as one of the popular contenders to succeed Jackson as the NFL MVP, it’s safe to say that things have worked out on each respective side.

Yet, one can wonder what Roman could’ve done with the fresh clay of Allen has his Buffalo tenure not come to an early end. During his lone full campaign with the Bills, Roman helped another multi-talented threat, Tyrod Taylor, earn the best numbers of his career. It featured Taylor’s personal bests in passing yards (3,035) and total touchdowns (24) as the Bills earned a respectable ledger of 8-8, securing what was then their first pair of non-losing seasons since 1998-2000.

Current Bills radio analyst Eric Wood theorized this week that prior knowledge of Roman’s systems can help the modern incarnation neutralize Jackson. Wood played nine seasons for the Bills and went to the Pro Bowl after Roman’s only full season.

“You can’t completely abandon what you do defensively because you can’t re-learn a defensive scheme in a week,” Wood remarked through team reporter Jordan LaBarber. “You won’t understand all the different aspects of it. That’s what Greg Roman wants you to do. He wants you to get the defense and get your guys into positions that they’re not used to playing. So, you’ll probably see more base defense from the Bills this week than we’ve seen a majority of this season.”

Though Roman got the last laugh in the teams’ meeting last season, the Bills’ defense did manage to hold Jackson in check by allowing only 185 yards out of him. It was the only time that Jackson was held below 200 personal yards during the 2019 season. Baltimore’s offense has undergone little turnover since, with the only major addition being second-round rookie rusher J.K. Dobbins.

While several BIlls defenders have vowed to study the film from that game, Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott believes that Roman is well-capable of adjusting despite the relatively same personnel.

“I’m sure they’ll be looking at that tape,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said of his defense, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “They’ve got a lot of new stuff this year that we’ve been looking at that they’ve added to their offense. So, I think it’s a frame of reference, or a reference point, but not a be all end all.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags