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Pollock: The Pittsburgh Steelers are next as Buffalo Bills claim the No. 2 seed the hard way

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Josh Allen gets off the plane from Miami early Monday morning and looks up to see a huge crowd of Bills fans cheering from the fence.

By CHUCK POLLOCK, Sun Senior Sports Columnist

Maybe it was karma, repayment for all of those gaffes where the Bills blew four games in the fourth quarter, three in the final two minutes.

It started when Kansas City wide receiver Kadarius Toney wiped out what appeared to be the winning touchdown on tight end Travis Kelce stunning cross-field lateral because he lined up in the neutral zone, a penalty.

Thus Buffalo, which seemed dead a week earlier when it lost at Philadelphia in overtime and fell to 11th in the AFC, seemed revived by that  20-17 triumph over the Chiefs.

Then, in the ensuing weeks, as the conference played its way back in the playoff race, Buffalo advanced by winning four straight games including a total domination of the Cowboys in Orchard Park.

But the clincher came last night at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens where the Bills, thanks to the Titans upsetting the Jaguars in Nashville, knew they had already earned a playoff spot and were, at very least, the No. 7 seed.

They also knew the difference between beating Miami and losing was finishing with the AFC’s No. 2 seed and playing at home in the opening round or, coming back to Hard Rock a week later as the AFC’s last playoff team. That inspiration led them to a 21-14 come-from-behind victory over the Dolphins and earned Buffalo, 11-6, a game against the Steelers, 10-7, at Highmark Stadium next Sunday at 1 o’clock.

But, for the first half, it seemed the Bills were doomed to return to South Florida next week.

QUARTERBACK Josh Allen had a nightmare opening 30 minutes throwing two end-zone interceptions that wasted potential scoring drives and he missed wide receiver Stefon Diggs by 10 yards on a pass play that was destined to score. Even his touchdown was lucky as Allen’s pass doinked off the helmet of Miami linebacker Andrew Van Ginkle and floated to former Miami wideout Trent Sherfield who caught the floating ball in the back of the end zone and did a double toe-touch for a score.

Early in the second half, Allen made his third turnover when he lost the ball on a strip sack, ending another potential game-tying possession. But after that, he was the man.

He used his legs to prolong drives and help keep the ball away from the Dolphins’ potent offense.

Buffalo got even in a franchise record-setting way as punt returner Deonta Hardy took advantage of two colliding Miami coverage people and sprinted 96 yards for the tying touchdown.

Allen’s 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dawson Knox provided the winning score though Buffalo had to sweat out two more Dolphin possessions, the second ending with an interception by safety Taylor Rapp in Bills territory.

After the game Allen admitted, “It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it.”

Knowing he turned the ball over three times, overthrew a potential touchdown and then tossed an ill-considered pass that came up short of the endzone just before halftime that caused the clock to run out before the field goal team could get on the field, he became introspective.

“It’s nice that we’re in the playoffs and have a home game,” but acknowledging Buffalo’s penchant for slow starts he added, “the only thing we accomplished, though, is getting to play another game at home and it’s up to us to take advantage of it.”

Notes from the Bills’ dramatic victory over Miami Sunday night:

— Deonte Hardy’s 96-yard punt return for a touchdown was the longest in franchise history. The previous high was a 91-yarder by Keith Moody in 1977.  

— Buffalo’s first takeaway was an interception of Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa by cornerback Christian Benford, his second of the season. The other was the game-clincher as safety Taylor Rapp picked the perfect time to get his first of the year on the Dolphins season-ending drive.

— The Bills initial turnover was an end zone interception of quarterback Josh Allen by cornerback Eli Apple, his first of the season. It was also Buffalo’s first giveaway in the red zone this year. Later, there was a second interception in the end zone, this one by safety DeShon Elliott, also his first. They were Allen’s 17th and 18th interceptions of the year.

— Buffalo’s first sack was of Dolphins’ running back De’Von Achane attempting to throw a halfback pass. He was dumped by linebacker Tyrel Dodson, giving him 2½ on the season.

— Miami’s initial sack of Allen was recorded by linebacker Melvin Ingram, his first. Later, he shared one with tackle Zach Seiler. Finally, tackle Christian Wilkins got a strip sack. The sack was his ninth, the forced fumble his first and the recovery his second this season.

— Rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid had seven receptions for 84 yards. He finished the season with 73 catches, the team record for a tight end breaking the mark of 68 set by Pete Metzelaars in 1993. 

— Five Bills were injured in the game. Wide receiver Gabe Davis hurt his knee in the first half and didn’t return. Dodson left with a shoulder injury, running back Ty Johnson with a concussion, cornerback Rasul Butler with a knee issue and left tackle Dion Dawkins missed time in the fourth quarter with a hand laceration that required stitches.

— Inactive for the Bills were safety Damar Hamlin, cornerback Kaiir Elam, running back Latavius Murray, defensive end Kingsley Jonathan, defensive tackle Linval Joseph and offensive tackle Alec Anderson.

Buffalo also promoted running back Leonard Fournette to the active roster from the practice squad and he replaced Murray. 

— Among Miami’s inactives were wide receiver Jalen Waddle (ankle), running back Raheem Mostert (ankle/knee), cornerback Xavien Howard (foot) and tight end Tyler Kroft. Outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, the Dolphins top pass rusher, went on injured reserve with a knee injury earlier in the week..

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.)

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