It happened in a New York Minute.
With 58 seconds remaining in the third quarter Saturday night, the Ravens were 9 yards away from tying the score. When that time expired, the Bills had no chance of losing.
Taron Johnson stepped in front of Lamar Jackson’s third-down pass into the end zone and returned his interception 101 yards for the biggest play of the Bills’ 17-3 victory against the Ravens in an AFC Divisional Round playoff game in front of 6,700 rowdy fans. Johnson outran the speedy Jackson down the sideline and through intermittent 16 mph winds.
“The emotions are still flying,” right tackle Dion Dawkins said shortly before midnight. “It’s a party here. Guys are excited. It will hit in a half-hour when guys get in their car that we’re [one] game away from the big show.”
Johnson, a third-year player from Weber State with two interceptions in his first 41 career games, disguised his spot in the underneath zone and read Jackson’s eyes as he stared down Andrews.
“They always tell us to look at the vision of the quarterback, especially when we’re in zone,” Johnson said. “It’ll take you where you want to be.”
The devastating turn of events only multiplied two plays later. The Ravens had trouble with snaps all game long and a fly ball over the head of Jackson in the shotgun sent him scrambling toward his own end zone.
Jackson scooped the ball and threw it out of bounds as he was dragged down, trading an intentional grounding penalty at the 2-yard line to avoid a touchdown or safety.
The bigger problem? The 2019 NFL MVP suffered a concussion on the crazy final play of the quarter and did not return to the game.
“Anytime he goes down,” Andrews said, “you know he’s feeling something.”
Undrafted rookie quarterback Tyler Huntley had two chances to make things interesting. On fourth-and-9 with 6:39 remaining, he overthrew a streaking Marquise Brown on what would’ve been a sure 71-yard touchdown.
“That was a heckuva throw,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I think the wind pushed it from behind a little bit.”
Four minutes later, Huntley threw an incompletion when a leaping Mark Andrews couldn’t secure a high pass on fourth-and-goal.
Despite compiling just 220 yards of total offense and 16 first downs, the Bills are headed to the AFC Championship game for the first time since January 1994, the last of their four straight appearances, because of a surprisingly dominant defensive performance (four sacks) against a Ravens offense that was averaging 34.6 points per game over its previous six. Buffalo either will host the Browns or visit the Chiefs next weekend.
This was the fourth playoff game since 2000 with no first-half touchdowns. The kickers combined to make 2-of-6 field goals.
The Ravens’ Justin Tucker — the most accurate kicker in NFL history — missed two field goals in a game for the first time since 2018. But both those attempts were from 50-plus yards. Never before in a nine-year career had he missed twice from inside 50.
“We weren’t able to finish drives the way we needed to,” Harbaugh said.
Each team only got one full possession in the third quarter.
The Bills took the kickoff and drove 66 yards on 11 plays for the tie-breaking touchdown on a drive that featured more rushing plays (four) than the entire first half (three). With better play-calling balance, Allen threw a wide receiver screen to Stefon Diggs, who got low and navigated traffic for a 3-yard touchdown.
The Ravens responded with an eight-minute drive to the Bills’ 9-yard line. Under pressure, Jackson skipped a pass to a wide open Brown as the potential tying touchdown turned into an incompletion. The interception came on the next play — the 15th of the possession.
“Taron Johnson will be remembered for a long time here in Buffalo,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “One of those potentially franchise-altering plays.”
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