Instant analysis: Bills ride Devin Singletary to beat Falcons, clinch AFC playoff spot

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ORCHARD PARK - Well, the Buffalo Bills sure made that a bit more interesting than it should have been Sunday afternoon at snowy Highmark Stadium.

Seemingly in control late in the second quarter and looking to expand on a 14-5 lead, the Bills endured a miserable finish to the first half which allowed the Atlanta Falcons to grab a 15-14 lead at the break.

And when Josh Allen threw his third interception of the game on the third play of the third quarter, it sure looked like the unthinkable was about to happen: A loss to the Falcons. The Falcons?

Allen threw back-to-back interceptions in the final four minutes of the first half, the result of which was this: One prevented a Buffalo score from the red zone, and the Falcons turned around after that and drove 80 yards to a touchdown.

And after the second, the Falcons moved into position for Younghoe Koo to kick a last-second field goal to grab the lead.

What the heck was going on? It was bizarro world for a little while and a frigid fan base undoubtedly began to shudder, not from the cold but from the possibility of another inexplicable loss to a mostly lousy opponent.

Thankfully, normalcy returned in the third quarter as the Buffalo defense played well and the Bills running game, powered by Allen and Devin Singletary, helped the Bills seize control of the game.

The result was a 29-15 victory which, coupled with Baltimore’s loss to the Rams, enabled the Bills to clinch a playoff berth. Now, with a victory next week against the Jets, they can clinch the AFC East for the second year in a row meaning at least one home playoff game.

Here are my immediate post-game takeaways:

1. End of first half was a travesty

It turned out OK in the end for the Bills, but their play at the end of the first half was egregious and that just can’t happen when the playoffs begin. They turned what should have been a runaway victory into a halftime deficit with awful and damaging mistakes that gift-wrapped points for Atlanta, plus took points off the board for Buffalo.

Allen was terrible in the first half. Yes, he ran for two touchdowns, but he was 8 of 20 for 88 yards and two interceptions. That’s a passer rating of 14.2 which put him in Nathan Peterman territory.

For some reason, he decided he needed to throw the ball 95 miles per hour on a few of his incompletions on a day when it was already a challenge to catch the ball. And then his two picks were 2018-era Allen, especially the first one in the end zone when, rather than just throw it away and take the field goal, he tried to play the hero.

Here’s the good news: The Bills proved they could win a game with their best player performing way below his normal standard, at least as a passer. Allen finished an ugly 11 of 26 for 20 yards and a 17.0 passer rating.

Jan 2, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) avoids the sack attempt of Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Addison (97) during the first half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 2, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) avoids the sack attempt of Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Addison (97) during the first half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

2. Defense rose up in a very big moment

Overall, it was another pretty good day for the Bills defense, and Leslie Frazier’s unit had one particularly huge moment at the start of the third quarter when it needed to make a stand, and it did.

Allen threw an interception to Foye Oluokon who returned it 18 yards to the Buffalo 25, setting the Falcons up for what you had to believe would be some type of score. Instead, Grteg Rousseau and Ed Oliver teamed up to stop Cordarelle Patterson for a three-yard loss, Oliver sacked Matt Ryan for a loss of four, and a third-down Ryan pass fell incomplete.

Moving into a breeze on a snowy field, Atlanta coach Arthur Smith eschewed a 50-yard field goal attempt and instead punted, and Thomas Morstead proceeded to kick into the end zone.

That stop seemed to lift the Bills, and Allen - using a suddenly resurgent run game - marched down the field 80 yards in 11 plays to Devin Singletary’s six-yard touchdown run. Allen’s two-point conversion pass to Cole Beasley put the Bills up 22-15.

Thereafter, the Bills defense did a little bending in the fourth quarter as Atlanta drove into position to cut it to one score, but then something pretty unusual happened.

Ryan appeared to score on a run, and after the play, he got in the face of Jordan Poyer who he thought hit him late, though he didn’t. A flag was thrown and Ryan was assessed a 15-yard penalty.

Here’s the thing: A video replay confirmed Ryan was short of the goal line, so the penalty was enforced 15 yards, and the Bills then kept the Falcons out of the end zone, forcing two Ryan incompletions to keep the score 29-15.

3. Hey, the Bills can run the ball

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this game was Buffalo’s ability to pound the ball on the ground, and it was a good thing because with Allen struggling as much as he was, the Bills needed to run to win the game.

Devin Singletary had the second 100-yard game of his career as he was a steady force, even producing a pair of 20-yard runs which is typically not his forte. And of course Allen had a big role as well as he topped 80 yards using mostly designed runs. Each of them scored two touchdowns.

On a cold, snowy day, the run game was important, and it was good to see that when they really needed it, they moved it for a season-high 233 yards.

The offensive line seems to have found a groove now that Ryan Bates is starting at left guard. Jon Feliciano was active for the game, but he remained on the bench.

Sal Maiorana can be reached at maiorana@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bills beat Falcons, clinch playoffs with huge game from Devin Singletary

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