ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – In what was supposed to be a showdown between Buffalo's Josh Allen and Baltimore's Lamar Jackson, Taron Johnson stole the show.
If not for the wall separating the field from the stands in the back of the east end zone, the Bills cornerback might still be running after returning an interception 101 yards for a touchdown that propelled Buffalo to its first AFC championship game in 27 years.
Johnson's pick-6 of Jackson's pass with 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter helped secure a 17-3 win over the Ravens in a divisional-round playoff game Saturday night.
“We're excited. It's not done yet, we're not done yet,” Johnson said. “It's just a blessing. Our defense stepped up to the challenge.”
Johnson's return matched the longest in NFL history and punctuated a stellar defensive outing in which Buffalo (15-3) limited the NFL's top running offense to 150 yards on 32 carries.
Jackson was sacked three times and did not return after sustaining a concussion following the final play of the third quarter. He finished 14 of 24 for 162 yards passing, while being limited to 42 yards rushing on nine carries.
Allen, an MVP candidate, finished 23 of 37 for 206 yards and a touchdown.
In a season in which the Bills relied on their dynamic Allen-led offense to outscore opponents, the third-year quarterback was gratified to see Buffalo's defense make such a difference.
“I can't say enough words for what that game was for our defense,” Allen said. “Taron Johnson's is a play that people are going to remember for a long time here in Buffalo, potentially a franchise-altering play.”
The Bills advanced to the AFC championship game for the first time since 1994 on their way to making – and losing – their four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. They will travel to Kansas City on Sunday.
The fifth-seeded Ravens (12-6), who clinched their third playoff berth in three years by winning their final five regular-season games, led the NFL in yards rushing a second consecutive year.
“It's a sad moment, but this team has been through a lot,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “It's tough right now, but teammates and coaches and camaraderie, it was a group of special guys that worked hard, came to work every day and didn't take anything for granted. We're going to hold our heads high and come back and work.”