ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Micah Hyde still remembers the pitch then-first-year Bills coach Sean McDermott delivered in helping convince the free agent safety to sign with Buffalo in 2017.
“He said, `We’re going to have a home playoff game. And we want to be walking into our stadium, going through the tunnel and listen to the salt crack underneath your shoes,‘” Hyde recalled this week. “So that vision that we had since ’17 has come true.”
Though snow isn’t in the forecast, leaving no need to lay down salt, Bills Stadium will be crackling nonetheless on Saturday — and with a limited number of fans in attendance, too. The Bills (13-3), AFC East champs for the first time in 25 years, will host their first playoff game in 24 years by facing the seventh-seeded Indianapolis Colts (11-5).
Much has changed since McDermott’s arrival and GM Brandon Beane’s hiring in transforming a franchise known mostly for losing over a 17-year playoff drought.
In making their third playoff appearance in four years, the Bills have returned to relevance for the first time since their Jim Kelly 1990s heyday, when Buffalo was a postseason fixture during a run that included four straight Super Bowl appearances, all losses.
Adding to the throwback theme will be the presence of Colts coach Frank Reich, who spent eight of his nine years in Buffalo as Kelly’s backup.
“I will always be a Bills fan, except for this Saturday for sure,” Reich said.
He was certainly a fan Sunday when Buffalo beat Miami, opening the door for the Colts to clinch a playoff berth with their win over Jacksonville.
Reich has Indianapolis making its second playoff appearance in three years. It’s a team featuring a mixture of veterans and youth, with 17-year quarterback Philip Rivers at one end of the scale, and rookie running back Jonathan Taylor at the other.
For Rivers, in his first season in Indianapolis, this might mark his best and final chance to lead a team to the Super Bowl.
“I don’t carry that with me day to day, that, `Man, played 16 years and never been a part of a championship,’” said Rivers, who had a 5-6 playoff record with the Chargers. “Shoot, it’s a new beginning every day, and excited for each challenge and opportunity.”
The 39-year-old QB comes off a season in which he and Tom Brady joined Drew Brees in a tie for second on the NFL list by topping 4,000 yards passing for a 12th time.
Rivers will be going head to head against one of the NFL’s top young newcomers in Josh Allen. Buffalo’s third-year starter oversaw an offense that scored a franchise record 501 points, while Allen broke a number of single season records with 4,544 passing and 37 touchdowns passing.
Allen has benefitted from the addition of Stefon Diggs, acquired in a trade with Minnesota in March, and the familiarity of being in his third year playing under coordinator Brian Daboll. Diggs became Buffalo’s first player to lead the NFL in catches (127) and yards receiving (1,535).
The one thing missing in Buffalo is a playoff win. Buffalo is 0-2 under McDermott and 0-6 since beating Miami 37-22 on Dec. 30, 1995.
Allen is still stung by how he and the offense unraveled in blowing a 16-0 third-quarter lead of a 22-19 overtime loss at Houston in the wild-card round a year ago.
“The main lesson was not to press,” said Allen, who went 11 of 26 for 133 yards and lost a fumble after halftime.
“If I could change it, I obviously would. But I’m glad I can’t,” he added. “I’m glad the lessons I’ve learned throughout the game and really throughout the three years I’ve been playing so far. Without failure, people don’t know success.”
Taylor has been running like his old college self lately. The rookie out of Wisconsin rushed for a franchise-record 253 yards and two scores against Jacksonville and is averaging 125.5 yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry over the last six games while scoring eight TDs, including one receiving.
“That was Badger J.T. and he brought that to the Colts,” fellow RB Nyheim Hines said. “If we can ride that wave and keep it going, then we are going to have a lot of success.”
The Bills will have a semblance of home-field advantage with about 6,700 fans allowed to attend for the first time this season. Under state guidelines, each person entering the 70,000-seat stadium must first test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of kickoff.
The Colts might not have all their plans set for Sunday yet. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus certainly does.
After steadily guiding Indy’s defense from near the bottom of the league into a top-10 unit, Eberflus has become one of the hottest names on the coaching market. Multiple teams have reportedly requested interviews with Eberflus, including the New York Jets. But those meetings won’t take place before Saturday’s game.
LOOKING AHEAD II?
Daboll is considered a potential head-coaching candidate for nurturing Allen and overseeing an offense that finished tied for second in yards gained. From the Buffalo area, Daboll has ties to Chargers GM Tom Telesco as both attended the same high school.
Buffalo’s top two receivers, Diggs (oblique) and Cole Beasley (knee), are listed as questionable. Beasley practiced on a limited basis for the first time on Thursday after being hurt two weeks ago. Diggs was also limited after being hurt on Sunday.
AP Sports Writer Michael Marot contributed.
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