By Jeff Moeller, The New York Extra/thenyextra.com
Somewhere, the late Jay Bonfatti is smiling. And the big man had a broad smile.
He was a longtime Buffalo resident and sportswriter/editor in the Buffalo area. I worked for him during his brief stay in Philadelphia.
Jay told me stories about Bills’ lore, and he’ll watch another part of it from the skies above.
The Bills are on a mission. The drought is over.
It is all coming together at the right time.
Buffalo outlasted Indianapolis in a slugfest of a 27-24 playoff victory in Orchard Park, which many believed would be a Bills’ blowout.
It is especially pleasing to Bills’ fans who have waited 25 years to win a playoff game since Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas led them to a postseason victory over Miami in 1995.
When New England lost Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and a horde of other starters via free agency and COVID-19 opt-outs, Buffalo became the favorite to be the first team in 11 years other than the Patriots to claim the AFC East title.
They boosted their passing attack by adding veterans Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley, both of whom have been invaluable all season.
This would be the year to end all of the miscues and misfortune that has haunted them the past 25 years.
Before head coach Sean McDermott arrived in 2017, this year’s 13-3 regular season mark was the first double-digit season since they had 11 wins in 1999.
Since then, the Bills have produced a majority of six-, seven- and eight-win seasons under the likes of Wade Phillips, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron, and yes, Rex Ryan, who couldn’t capture the magic in his two seasons.
McDermott, a former defensive whiz in Philadelphia under Jim Johnson, is one of the most underrated coaches in the league for what he has produced in four seasons with his overall 39-26 slate.
Quarterback Josh Allen, who has been highly critiqued over his three years, arguably is among the game’s best for his passing and running abilities. His maturity over the past year has been quite noticeable from last season.
Allen certainly has quieted his critics about winning the big game as some of his best performances have been against top 10 defenses in the league.
Coming into Saturday’s game, Allen had a 4-0 mark against those teams with a 70 percent completion percentage, an average of 270 yards per game with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. He averaged a quarterback rating of 109.9
Against Indianapolis, Allen completed 26 of 35 passes for 324 yards with a pair of touchdowns and zero interceptions. He ran for a team-high 54 yards with a touchdown, and compiled an overall rating of 121.6.
During their six-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s game, the Bills had beaten opponents by an average of 20 points per contest.
The Bills’ defense has been ranged in the second-half of the league, but they have made timely deflections and stops all season, making their share against the Colts. During their season-ending six-game winning streak, they lowered their 23-point per game average down to roughly 15.
End Jerry Hughes is among the best along with tackle Ed Oliver and linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds.
The secondary led by Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, and Jordan Poyer is one of the game’s elite.
The Bills will host Pittsburgh or the winner of Baltimore and Tennessee next weekend. An eventual showdown against Kansas City would loom.
Yet, there’s something magical and predictable going on with the Bills this season.
They have all the facets to beat the once in fallible Chiefs and get to the Big Dance.
The last time they got there in 1994, the Bills had to beat the Chiefs with Joe Montana.
Last year, the writing was on the wall for the Chiefs. This year, the Bills have the mogo.
Bonfatti passed away on the eve of the 2008 season. Now, 12 years later, it looks like he’ll have another reason to smile.