The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After demolishing the Patriots, Josh Allen and the Bills are a threat to the entire NFL

Bills quarterback Josh Allen, left, threw one of his five touchdown passes Saturday to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)
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Well, look who kicked in the saloon door to the playoffs, demanded both blue cheese and ranch with their wings and gave off the vibe they weren’t leaving until the stools were seat-side down on the bar and the floors were being mopped. There, in the back, through the smoke. Yep, that’s Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills, lording over the pool table, asking anyone who dares, “Who wants next?”

The first round was just getting started, so there’s an itty-bitty chance someone will make a more definitive statement than the Bills’ 47-17 mockery of the New England Patriots on Saturday night in Orchard Park, N.Y. There’s also a chance it will snow in Honolulu on the Fourth of July.

Here’s a list of Buffalo possessions on which it did not score a touchdown: when backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky knelt to run out the clock at the end of the game.

The Bills took their first seven possessions against the Patriots — who are (checks notes) still coached by Bill Belichick — and used them to gain 484 yards and score seven touchdowns. They did not punt. They did not kick a field goal. They did not turn the ball over. That’s … unprecedented. Like, not just for the Bills and not just against the Patriots. In NFL history.

This wasn’t anything like the pregame gibberish might have suggested — a struggle for field position or a matter of who won the turnover battle. It was neither a struggle nor a battle or anything close.

And it wasn’t a fluke. What warms the hearts and arteries of those who filled frigid Highmark Stadium more than lambasting the Patriots might be the possibilities still ahead. Well, that and the Fireball, no doubt.

“What matters is what we do going forward,” Allen told reporters afterward.

That’s a Buffalo mind-set now because this is no longer new. What’s most likely going forward would be a rematch of last year’s AFC championship game, this time in the divisional round, because that requires only a victory by second-seeded Kansas City over seventh-seeded Pittsburgh on Sunday night. Last year’s version went to the Chiefs, 38-24. Would Kansas City be confident about producing a carbon copy?

NFL playoffs schedule, bracket and what you need to know

Probably not. Allen is now officially a menace, and he has the best, most important performance of his career against a thorn-in-the-side opponent to bolster that case. His numbers against the Patriots — 21 for 25 for 308 yards with five touchdowns and no picks, to go with six rushes for 66 yards — suggest he’s the X-factor these playoffs need.

You know what you will get from Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers: polished and professional play, a mix of artist and air traffic controller. Allen is different — and in some ways more exciting. How to defend him?

Before the game had been decided — which means, by definition, on Buffalo’s first possession — Allen scampered for 25 yards on one play, then cleverly converted on third and four with a designed keeper up the middle. His first touchdown pass, to tight end Dawson Knox, came after he held the ball, held the ball, held it a bit longer, with his feet moving all the time. He’s always a threat to go forward. Here, he hung back, extending a play that should have been over long before. It about broke the Patriots.

“I thought I threw the ball away,” Allen said.

Except Knox snared it.

“I had no idea what was going on,” Allen said.

Which about describes how all of Buffalo feels at the moment. So watch these Bills because there’s plenty of evidence they came into these playoffs curiously undervalued. The Tennessee Titans are the top seed in the AFC, so they got to sit back and drink in this performance from afar, knowing they wouldn’t have to face Buffalo until each has won another game. Plus, Tennessee owns a 34-31 victory over the Bills from October. The Titans’ credentials are established and legitimate, and they earned their weekend off.

But the Bills aren’t really who they seem to be on paper, a sleepy third seed in the AFC behind Tennessee and Kansas City. Here are categories in which the Bills led the NFL: yards allowed per game (272.8), yards allowed per play (4.6), passing yards allowed per game (163.0 — a number that seems as if it’s from the 1960s), points allowed per game (17.0) and third-down conversion rate allowed (30.8 percent). Seems as if their defense might be at least fair to middling.

They can’t be identified just as that, as some bundled-up, fog-breathing, subzero defense that suffocates opponents who can’t handle the frozen turf. That dismisses Allen and all the weapons he has around him. Take that across-the-board defensive excellence — the group that turned Saturday’s game because, if a 30-point game can have a turning point, Micah Hyde’s it’s-a-touchdown-no-it’s-an-interception pick of Mac Jones in the end zone was just that — and add to it an offense that is dangerous and diverse. Allen’s 21 completions Saturday went to nine receivers, and the Bills ran it 29 times and passed 25. That’s better balance than Simone Biles.

“We’ve just got a lot of guys that can do all sorts of different things,” Allen said.

Fine, Buffalo didn’t lead the league in total offense; it was fifth. It didn’t score more points than anyone else; the Cowboys and Buccaneers did (the Bills were third). Only Kansas City and Tampa Bay converted third downs at a higher rate.

What you have here is a well-rounded team that is better than an 11-6 record might suggest. The Bills outscored their opponents by 194 points in the regular season. That’s more than twice the Titans (plus-65) and the Packers (plus-79), the top seeds in the two conferences. It’s the best margin in the league, and it suggests the Bills should be considered among the league’s best, a threat to win everything there is.

Consider, too, the odd flow to Buffalo’s season — a reason it could arrive in the playoffs somewhat off the marquee. A couple of the losses were understandable: at Tennessee and at Tampa Bay. A couple were weird: at Jacksonville and to New England in a blizzard, when the Patriots threw just three passes. Add it up, and after a fifth straight win, a reality emerges: The Bills are a threat to whomever is in the way.

On Saturday night, that was New England but only nominally. The Patriots have taken part in 59 playoff games in their checkered history — embarrassing in the 20th century, regal in the 21st. Only once have they allowed more points in the postseason, and that would be in the 1963 AFL championship game, a 51-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers. The Patriots had played 41 playoff games under Belichick and never lost by more than 19.

There are adults from Boston and beyond who have no concept of such harsh playoff realities as Saturday’s 30-point drubbing. But this loss for the Patriots is not about them. It wasn’t about Belichick, who used 2021 to reestablish a good foundation for his franchise. It wasn’t about Tom Brady, who’s gone and in the playoffs on the other side of the bracket.

It was about the Buffalo Bills, who are built like their city, hardy and stout and all the rest. Belly up to the bar, Josh. Lick the wing sauce off your fingers. The rest of the games are on. Let’s see whether anyone else can match that performance — and seem like a threat to the entire league, as the Bills clearly are.

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