It was a cold night. It was a cathartic night. It was a night of frozen breath and furious drives, a night to exorcise past demons and start aspirations for the future. New England in the rearview mirror, Kansas City in the high beams.
It was damn near zero on the thermometer and damn near 50 on the scoreboard.
All anyone around Buffalo knew was that Josh Allen was so unstoppable, that all Bill Belichick could do was fade deeper and deeper under his hoodie and wait for it all to be over.
For two decades Western New York was like an in-season vacation getaway for the New England Patriots. Tom Brady went 32-3 against these guys.
It was a cakewalk en route to deep playoff runs, Super Bowls and celebrations of great quarterback play. And so for two decades the Bills and their fans had to endure humiliation and heartbreak from the Patriots, and Januarys in front of the television watching them.
Then came this. Then came everything.
Josh Allen, he of the $150 million contract, of the possibly frozen feet and the possible call a doctor after four hours remedy, delivered on every bit of promise by torching New England from one end of Highmark Stadium Park to the other.
He threw (21-for-25 for 308 yards and five touchdowns). He ran (six carries for 66 yards).
And for New England, he represents not merely a short-term problem, not just some Bills momentary splash that can be toppled in a season or two. Allen is 25 years old and he’s getting better. This is the immovable force in the AFC East. This is what the future might look like.
In doing so Allen not only gave Buffalo a night out of their long-awaited dreams, but a shot in the arm of potential heading into next week’s possible 2021 AFC championship rematch with Kansas City (pending a victory Sunday over Pittsburgh).
It wasn’t just Allen though, it was all of the Bills. Devin Singletary rumbled for two touchdowns. Dawson Knox caught two of his own. Micah Hyde had a beautiful interception on the Patriots’ first drive that set the tone.
Six weeks ago, New England pushed around the Bills on this same field. The Patriots won despite attempting just three passes; it was a sign of guile, might and smarts. Buffalo had to answer questions about being soft, about being ill-equipped for winter weather, about staring into a future of a rivalry remaining lopsided against them.
Since that 14-10 loss in the Lake Erie wind, the script flipped. New England finished the season 1-4, including this loss. Buffalo has now won five consecutive games and looks capable of three more.
This wasn’t just a finesse victory, although there was plenty of elite speed and high-end talent on that Bills offense and defense. This was also about toughness. Blocking. Tackling. Bullying. Discipline.
It was about three Bills sacks, two interceptions and a Patriots ground game that couldn’t get traction. It was New England with the dumb pre-snap penalties, with the turnovers, with the dropped passes. It was New England that didn’t look mentally ready for the game, or perhaps the elements.
Buffalo, meanwhile, did whatever it wanted. The Bills’ first five drives:
Nine plays, 70 yards, touchdown. Ten plays, 80 yards, touchdown. Ten plays, 82 yards, touchdown. Four plays, 89 yards, touchdown. Six plays, 58 yards, touchdown.
In the Super Bowl era, no team had ever scored a touchdown on the first five drives of a playoff game. Buffalo did it on its first seven. Against Belichick, no less. It averaged a ridiculous 9.5 yards per play during that stretch.
It was all over except for the table smashing in the parking lots.
Can the Bills beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs? Can they make the Super Bowl for the first time since the Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith days? Can they take this and go even further?
If Allen plays like he did Saturday, anything is possible. If they come with this kind of fight and purpose, nothing is out of reach. This wasn’t just a smackdown of the Patriots, a stomping a long time in the making.
It was a show of force to the rest of the NFL.
Buffalo is here. Buffalo is a problem.