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Can Buffalo Bills produce fairytale finale to turbulent 2022 campaign? Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals think not | NFL News


Fans shows support for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin

Fans shows support for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin

Is there a storybook ending to the tale of the 2022 Buffalo Bills? The disruption phase of every traditional narrative arc continues to linger, and now the Cincinnati Bengals await as the next Big Bad on their quest to Super Bowl riches and resolution.

The NFL has little time for supposed fate, and yet a cocktail of Mother Nature, near-tragedy, A-lister injury, a three-decade-long wait for Lombardi redemption and all the inbetween nuances of football’s any given Sunday-any given snap mantra threaten to merge as the perfect imperfect finale.

As an on-field product Sean McDermott’s side persist to test the boundaries of full throttle every-down aggression, the face of which has been quarterback Josh Allen and an unerring belief in his mutant arm and ability to decapitate a defense no matter the circumstance.

They have become quintessential movie theatre football at both ends of the spectrum, from climactic deep-ball haymaker to one-too-many fearlessness. They teeter on the edge of chaos, more often than not though out-weighing sloppiness with devastating execution. And the NFL loves them for it.

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There was 1.54 on the clock in the second quarter of their Wild Card win over the Miami Dolphins, the Bills facing a third-and-eight in the wake of a sack generated by the 256th Josh Boyer blitz of the day. Ken Dorsey’s reply was to dial up and disguise a quads concept (four receivers aligned to one side of the field), Khalil Shakir mirroring Gabe Davis’ curved inside release into an out before subtly transitioning to a post-route downfield; Allen had already wound up (granted, he needs little wind up) and dunked on an exposed secondary with the most Allenest of moonballs to meet the path of his receiver, only for the rookie to fumble a would-be 54-yard catch and likely walk-in touchdown.

Highlights of the the Miami Dolphins' clash with the Buffalo Bills in the Super Wild Card game

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Highlights of the the Miami Dolphins’ clash with the Buffalo Bills in the Super Wild Card game

Highlights of the the Miami Dolphins’ clash with the Buffalo Bills in the Super Wild Card game

The Bills had been up 17-6; it would have been game out of sight against a Skylar Thompson-quarterbacked Miami, who instead closed within three points by half-time before taking the lead on a fumble return immediately after the break and forcing back-to-back punts as Allen whiffed an easy third-and-seven completion to a crossing Shakir having missed an open Davis on his endzone-bound out-and-up pattern.

It was frenetic, Orchard Park could not settle, it was ‘what next?’ Bills football.

The Boyer blitz was unrelenting as he elected to throw every available Miami body at blunting the story’s main character. That he resorted to daring Allen to beat him was – while potentially a blueprint to luring 2018 Allen-esque mistakes against Cover 0/1 – testament to the ‘only so much you can do to slow him’ potency he has developed under center.

Buffalo’s superpower is their never-ending bucket of splash plays with which to snatch back momentum should it ever leave them. For every erratic Allen quirk a retaliating masterpiece is to be expected. They found a way again.

Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano were burning up the turf as they flew from tackle to tackle, Leslie Frazier barely flinched on the sideline while stylishly rocking the slanted beanie hat to leave his headset ear exposed, Allen was starting a new club as the only quarterback in the league willing to pick a fight with defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam was plotting his heroic game-icing fourth-and-six pass breakup. On the edge, high-charged Bills football.

Watch the best plays from an incredible 2022 season by Buffalo Bills' quarterback Josh Allen

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Watch the best plays from an incredible 2022 season by Buffalo Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen

Watch the best plays from an incredible 2022 season by Buffalo Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen

Staring down a challenge has become part of their identity, They have needed it more than ever this year. And here they still are.

On Sunday, they face the Bengals for the first time since Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field during their Week 17 Monday Night Football matchup. Harrowing scenes had seen Bills players and personnel being consoled on the field as they watched, and said their prayers, while medical staff administered CPR to their team-mate and brother, before taking a knee together at mid-field as Hamlin was transported to local hospital in Cincinnati and placed in intensive care overnight.

It prompted a league-wide outreach of support as the nation held its breath for the 24-year-old, who by Thursday had been reported to have opened his eyes and displayed remarkable progress before doctors removed his breathing tube on the Friday as Hamlin was able to talk with Bills players and coaches over FaceTime.

A draining week made for emotional scenes that weekend when the Bills hosted the New England Patriots in their regular season finale, Orchard Park playing stage to a flood of No 3 shirts and hats in tribute to Hamlin as Allen and co. dedicated the performance to the second-year safety, who would encapsulate his staggering improvement by tweeting a picture of him watching on from his hospital bed.

Nyheim Hines scores an incredible second kick-off return touchdown for the Buffalo Bills against the New England Patriots

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Nyheim Hines scores an incredible second kick-off return touchdown for the Buffalo Bills against the New England Patriots

Nyheim Hines scores an incredible second kick-off return touchdown for the Buffalo Bills against the New England Patriots

The rest was storybook stuff. On the opening play of the game, returner Nyheim Hines would punch the open lane and tear away for a 96-yard touchdown from kickoff to the sound a raucous Bills mafia. He would do it again in the third quarter, this time bouncing through multiple would-be tacklers to race home for a 101-yard score as a fired up city erupted once more. As if it the script could not get any better, Hines’ opener marked the team’s first return touchdown in three years and three months. A reminder: Hamlin wears No 3.

“If you want the truth, it was spiritual,” said Allen. “It really was. Bone-chilling. It was special.”

Fully-fledged magic could yet reach greater heights as John Brown proceeded to celebrate his 42-yard touchdown catch on the next drive by gifting the ball to one of the Bills trainers responsible for saving Hamlin’s life on the field that night.

To focus on football when football had temporarily lost all meaning or importance was a glowing reflection of an already tight-knit family that now had something else to galvanise them. And it hasn’t been their only obstacle.

A look at some of this season's best plays from Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow

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A look at some of this season’s best plays from Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow

A look at some of this season’s best plays from Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow

In November, seven feet of snowfall in just 24 hours resulted in the Bills having to fly to Detroit for a relocated home matchup against the Cleveland Browns, before returning home and then heading back to Detroit to face the Lions on Thanksgiving four days later.

They battled treacherous conditions again in December when another snowstorm left players having to dig out their cars, the more pressing concern being the loss of at least 39 people in the area. The Bills have since surprised local resident Jay Withey with Super Bowl tickets in reward for his efforts in saving 24 people during the storm by breaking into a school to provide shelter.

Elsewhere away from the field, 2022 saw the Bills position themselves at the forefront of support for the local community following a racist shooting that resulted in the death of 10 black people in a supermarket in May, before rallying around tight end Dawson Knox in the wake of the death of his younger brother Luke in August.

The Buffalo Bills family show support for Damar Hamlin ahead of their game against the New England Patriots

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The Buffalo Bills family show support for Damar Hamlin ahead of their game against the New England Patriots

The Buffalo Bills family show support for Damar Hamlin ahead of their game against the New England Patriots

On the field, many people’s pick for the Super Bowl was dealt a setback in Week Two when star defensive back Micah Hyde suffered a season-ending neck injury, before Hall of Fame-bound edge rusher Von Miller was also ruled out for the year with a knee injury picked up on Thanksgiving.

Four straight Super Bowl defeats from 1990-1993 remain an unyielding point of reference. So too does the Kansas City Chiefs breaking Bills hearts with 13 seconds left in last year’s Divisional Round matchup after Buffalo had spent the best part of a year devising a plan for Patrick Mahomes on the back of their AFC Championship Game defeat.

Allen attempts throws of 20+ yards at a preposterous rate and plays with interception fire like few others, while the Bills defense has itself been among the most susceptible to downfield bombs-away passes all year. They are box office, with some story to tell.

In Joe Burrow they meet a master of narrative demolition. But can anybody thwart these charged up Bills?

The NFL playoffs continue on Sky Sports this weekend, with divisional round double-headers on both Saturday and Sunday night; watch Cincinnati Bengals @ Buffalo Bills on Sunday, live on Sky Sports NFL from 8pm



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