ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP)Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills’ turnover troubles haven’t caught up to them just yet.
The question is, how many more self-induced errors, blown leads and sudden offensive lulls can the Bills overcome before those inefficiencies derail the team from its Super Bowl aspirations?
Allen’s ability to shrug off his mistakes and a stout defensive effort were enough for Buffalo to eke out a 34-31 wild-card playoff win over Miami. The injury-depleted Dolphins, who came in having lost five of six, put a scare into the Bills by scoring 18 points off Allen’s three turnovers.
A similar sloppy outing might be too much for the three-time defending AFC East champion Bills to surmount in the divisional round on Sunday when they host Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals, who are on a 9-0 roll.
The Bills and Bengals will meet three weeks after their game in Cincinnati was canceled in the wake of Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin going into cardiac arrest and having to be resuscitated on the field.
Hamlin is continuing his recovery in Buffalo and was healthy enough to visit with his teammates on Saturday. While the Bills can draw inspiration from Hamlin, they must turn their attention to cleaning up on-field issues.
Buffalo blew a 17-0 lead against Miami and its season was in jeopardy of ending when Allen was sacked and lost a fumble that was returned 5 yards for a touchdown, putting the Dolphins ahead 24-20.
”We did everything we could in some ways to hand that game over,” coach Sean McDermott said. ”We’ve got to do a better job with that. And I trust our players will get that done.”
To their credit, the Bills have shown an ability to bounce back. Including Sunday, they’re 5-3 this season with a negative turnover differential, and they’re 4-0 when having as many giveaways as takeaways. Buffalo was 2-4 last year and 3-1 in 2020 when losing the turnover battle.
The Bills have played just three games this season without committing a turnover, as opposed to six each in 2021 and ’20, including playoffs. Allen is leading the way, with 16 interceptions (six of them coming inside an opponent’s 20) and five lost fumbles.
Remarkably, perhaps, Allen is 11-3 this season in games where he has a turnover, and 31-22 overall including playoffs. The Bills have a much superior record – 25-5 – in games Allen doesn’t have a giveaway over his five seasons.
Allen acknowledged he has to be better, while noting the final score is what counts the most.
”All that matters is winning the football game, if it’s by one or it’s by 100,” he said.
In other areas, Allen’s numbers remain impressive. He threw for 352 yards against Miami, third-most in team playoff history and the most since Doug Flutie had 360 in a 1998 season wild-card loss to Miami. It was Allen’s fourth career 300-yard playoff outing, breaking the team record he shared with Jim Kelly.
Buffalo was bailed out by a defense that limited the Dolphins to 231 yards of offense and 42 yards rushing – the second fewest by a Bills opponent in a playoff game.
”We just don’t blink,” linebacker Tremaine Edmunds said. ”It’s not the first time we’ve been battle-tested, so we put our heads down and we keep working. Nobody flinched on the sideline.”
It’s one thing to contain an opponent that was down to its third-string quarterback, rookie Skylar Thompson.
Burrow hits town next.
Overcoming deficits. Buffalo improved to 9-3 this season when trailing at any point in a game after going 2-7 last season.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Opening drives in each half. The Bills turned the ball over on downs on their game-opening possession, and Allen’s fumble returned for a TD came on their first drive of the second half. Buffalo has scored a TD on its first possession of a half 11 times, while also having committed eight turnovers (four interceptions, four lost fumbles) this year.
WR Gabe Davis. Following a subpar regular season, the third-year player bolstered his reputation as a playoff performer with six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. In his previous playoff outing, Davis set an NFL postseason single-game record with four TDs receiving in 42-36 overtime loss to Kansas City. Davis has 20 catches for 440 yards and six touchdowns in six playoff games.
Ken Dorsey. The first-year offensive coordinator was slow to adapt his game plan once Miami shifted to defending against the deep pass.
CB Dane Jackson hurt his knee and is considered day to day. … FB Reggie Gilliam injured an elbow. … WR Isaiah McKenzie (hamstring) and DT Jordan Phillips (shoulder) were inactive.
3-10 – The Bills’ franchise playoff record when allowing 30 or more points.
The Bengals are 2-0 against Buffalo in the postseason, with both games played in Cincinnati. The Bengals beat the Bills 28-21 in a 1981 season division-round game, and 21-10 in the 1988 season AFC championship.
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