The focus will be on whether Philip Rivers can outperform Josh Allen when the Indianapolis Colts visit the Buffalo Bills in Saturday’s AFC wild-card contest but perhaps the bigger barometer of a possible upset lies on the feet of Jonathan Taylor.
The Colts’ rookie is fresh off a monster game as he leads the seventh-seeded Colts (11-5) into the matchup with the second-seeded Bills (13-3) at Orchard Park, N.Y.
Taylor completed the regular season by rushing for a franchise-record 253 yards and scored two touchdowns on 30 carries in a 28-14 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has gained 741 yards over the past six games while displaying the form that had the Bills impressed leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft before Indianapolis tabbed him in the second round with the 41st overall selection.
“We gave him high marks all the way around,” Buffalo defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier told reporters. “Everybody thought that he would be a real good NFL back. I don’t think any of our scouts or any of our coaches who had a chance to take a look at him on the offensive side were surprised at what he’s doing.”
Perhaps the lone hindrance is the shoulder pain Taylor is dealing with after his workhorse outing. He was a limited practice participant on both Tuesday and Wednesday but maintains he will be at full strength.
“Anytime you get 30 carries in a game, you’re going to have nicks and bruises,” Taylor said.
The Bills have had plenty of playoff hurt over the past quarter century — having lost their last six playoff contests since last winning a postseason game following the 1995 season.
Hopes are high that the drought will end after Allen emerged as one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks this season.
Allen set franchise records of 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns as well as helping provide a new identity to a rising squad that posted the franchise’s best victory total since 1991, with the latter club advancing to the Super Bowl.
It is victories and postseason achievements that drive Allen, not gaudy statistics or MVP chatter.
“As quarterback of the team, your job is to move the ball and to score points,” Allen said. “So, when we’re not scoring points, that’s my biggest fear. It’s putting our defense in a bind if we’re not moving the chains on third down, again, that puts us behind the eight ball and we’ve got to punt the ball away.
“That’s what drives me. That’s what motivates me. I fear letting the guys who drafted me, this front office and this organization, down.”
Allen certainly has been helped by the presence of wideout Stefon Diggs, who led the NFL with a career-best 127 receptions while also accumulating a career-high 1,535 yards. The powerful duo has helped the Bills rank second in the NFL in scoring offense (31.3 points per game) while tying for second in total offense (396.4 yards per game).
Indianapolis ranks ninth in scoring offense (28.2) and 10th in total offense (378.1) behind the 39-year-old Rivers, who last week moved past legendary Dan Marino and into fifth place in NFL history with 421 career touchdown passes.
This is Rivers’ first season with the Colts but this contest could also be his last — either with the team or for his career.
Perhaps that is why Rivers (4,169 yards, 24 touchdowns) is feeling that extra dose of urgency.
“Certainly, I wanted to be part of a playoff team and a team that has a chance to win a championship,” Rivers said after Sunday’s game. “I definitely found out early that I was on that kind of team.”
Colts coach Frank Reich just wants Rivers to relax. In fact, he sees no reason for any of his players to be antsy.
“The pressure is not on us,” Reich said. “We should be loose, we should be aggressive, we should be freed up to just play our best game of the year against a really good football team because, in reality, no one is going to give us a chance.
“When you’re with this team the way I am day in and day out, you would know where I get the confidence to feel like we have the team to beat anybody in this tournament.”
That would rate as an accomplishment against a red-hot Buffalo squad that has won its last six games, including the past three by a hefty 29.3 average. In fact, the Bills would have 10 straight wins if not for losing 32-30 to the Arizona Cardinals on a game-ending Hail Mary pass.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world,” said Bills safety Micah Hyde, “because it made us a better defense, it made us a better team. We understood we should have won that game. … But, I mean, we were just rolling after that.”
–Field Level Media