Tyler Boyd and Andy Dalton should have a lifetime’s worth of free drinks coming their way if they're ever in Western New York.
The Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver — a Pittsburgh native, no less — caught a 49-yard touchdown pass from the Texas-bred Dalton against the Baltimore Ravens in the final minute, which amazingly thrust the Buffalo Bills into the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season.
The Bills had gone nearly 18 years without tasting the postseason. But when Jordan Poyer intercepted David Fales, clinching the Bills’ 22-15 win over the Miami Dolphins, their fans slid to the edges of their seats. Could you blame them if they fully expected the Bengals not to do their part?
The Ravens needed to protect a 27-24 lead, and they — not the Bills — would have been in the playoffs. But the Ravens allowed Boyd to streak free on fourth-and-12 with just under a minute left, and the touchdown gave the Bengals an incredible 31-27 victory.
And for the Bills, it meant ending the NFL’s longest streak without making the playoffs. The Cleveland Browns (15 years) had been the only other team that had gone longer than a decade without making the postseason. The Bills actually held the longest postseason drought of any major North American sports franchise. But that will come to an end next weekend.
The Bills earned the No. 6 seed and will travel to face the Jacksonville Jaguars — led by Doug Marrone, the Bills' former head coach — for the wild-card round on Sunday at EverBank Field. The Jaguars, who are making their first postseason appearance since the 2007 season, lost to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. The Titans now will head to Kansas City to face the Chiefs in the other AFC matchup next weekend.
In the background for the Bills is the concern over the health of LeSean McCoy. The Bills' running back, easily their most dynamic weapon, suffered an ankle injury that knocked him out of Sunday's game. Reports indicated that there was no break, but his availability for next week’s wild-card game is unclear right now.
Still, this was a day of terrific celebration for Bills fans, who had suffered so fiercely for much of the past two decades. Even after a 5-2 start and Buffalo winning four of its final six games, losing only to the New England Patriots down the stretch, there were a lot of nervous members of Bills Mafia as a lot of things needed to happen to end the streak. Everything fell — in storybook fashion — into place.
This in a season in which Bills head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane were brought in to clean house in what was expected to be a rebuilding year. Even with the hot start and strong finish, there were others times the Bills looked like a team that needed a lot of work and little like a playoff contender. None more so than following the strange decision to bench Tyrod Taylor for their Week 11 game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Nathan Peterman was miserable in the game, throwing five picks, and McDermott had no choice but to go back to Taylor.
Sure, the Bills lost other close games — a 9-3 thriller at the Carolina Panthers and a four-point defeat at Cincy — but the Chargers loss felt at the time like an unnecessary change and a decision that McDermott might have to live with the entire offseason. Sunday changed all of that. The Bills did enough, and they got the help they needed.
The Bills' last playoff game was not a happy day in their history. It was the "Music City Miracle" 22-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans back on Jan. 9, 2000, when Frank Wycheck's lateral to Kevin Dyson traveled 75 yards for a kick-return touchdown in the waning seconds.
Obviously, the Bills hope to put that bad memory further in the rear-view mirror. But can they win their first game without a healthy McCoy? That's going to be the talk all week leading up to the game.