ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — With Josh Allen throwing one interception after another, the Buffalo Bills turned to Devin Singletary and their once-neglected running attack.
They avoided a major meltdown on a snow-dusted field and bulled themselves into the playoffs.
Singletary scored two touchdowns rushing in the second half to make up for the quarterback throwing interceptions on three consecutive drives in a 29-15 win over Atlanta, which eliminated the Falcons from contention on Sunday.
The AFC East-leading Bills rallied from a halftime deficit for the first time this season to clinch their third consecutive playoff spot courtesy of the win coupled with the Baltimore Ravens’ 20-19 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Buffalo now only needs to beat the New York Jets in its finale next weekend to clinch its second consecutive division title — and assure the Bills home-field advantage for the wild-card playoff round.
“Not every game you win is going to be pretty, and that was the case today,” said Allen, who scored two touchdowns rushing. “I’m just fortunate to have teammates that step up in big situations like this.”
The turnaround came after Allen’s third turnover, in being picked off by Foye Oluokun three snaps into the third quarter and Buffalo trailing 15-14.
Once the Bills’ defense forced the Falcons to punt, Buffalo leaned on Singletary, who finished with 23 carries for 110 yards, both career highs, and capped consecutive drives by scoring on a 6-yard run followed by a 4-yard run.
“We definitely got in a groove when we needed to and we made it count,” Singletary said. “I wasn’t out there by myself. I had the linemen, tight ends, receivers making blocks. So it wasn’t just me.”
Buffalo’s 233 yards rushing were the most since the team had 244 in a 20-3 win over Denver 25 months ago.
The Falcons (7-9) went down swinging in being eliminated from the NFC race to extend their postseason drought to a fourth year in their first season under coach Arthur Smith. Aside from forcing three turnovers and a safety off Marquez Stevenson fumbling a punt, they limited Allen to completing 11 of 26 attempts for 120 yards and a career-worst 17.0 passer rating.
“We fell short, so it’s tough,” said Falcons safety Duron Harmon, who intercepted Allen in the end zone after his pass was tipped by Oluokun. “But we’re a young team and this will be a feeling that hopefully everybody in the locker room remembers, leaving the field, the Bills clinching a playoff berth. Hopefully we can use that as some type of motivation to get back to this point where we’re playing meaning football in late December.”
The Falcons have shown resolve through a season in which they’re 7-2 in games decided by eight or fewer points. What’s been an issue is an ability to win consecutive games, something Atlanta has not done since Weeks 8 and 9 of last season.
The outcome wasn’t decided until there were five minutes remaining, and after the Falcons had a touchdown reversed on replay review, compounded by quarterback Matt Ryan being flagged for taunting with 6:07 remaining.
Rather than scoring on a 7-yard run and cutting Buffalo’s deficit to 29-22, officials ruled Ryan’s knee was down at the 1. The taunting penalty then pushed Atlanta back to the 16, where Ryan threw incompletions into the end zone on third and fourth down.
“I’m disappointed in myself in that the timing cost us, but I didn’t think it was anything that bad,” he said. “It’s just disappointing how it shook out. Whether I agree with either of the calls, it doesn’t make a difference, those are the rules.”
For Buffalo, Allen might have played a significant role in keeping the Bills afloat through much of an up-and-down season in which they lost five of eight to cede their lead atop the AFC East. It’s Buffalo’s rejuvenated running game — and the decision to go with Singletary as the lead running back — that has carried the team in winning its past three.
In the past 14 quarters, dating to Buffalo trailing 24-3 in an eventual 33-27 overtime loss at Tampa Bay, Singletary has 287 yards rushing and scored four times, while adding 86 yards receiving.
“Devin has has really taken advantage of his opportunities. He’s made our lives a lot easier,” center Mitch Morse said. “Those running backs have taken a lot on their shoulders the past two weeks, and really kind of hammered them in, in some big situations.”
Atlanta’s Kyle Pitts set the franchise rookie record for yards receiving and became the NFL’s second rookie tight end to top 1,000 yards receiving. Pitts finished with two catches for 69 yards before being limited by a hamstring injury in the second half.
With 1,018 yards receiving, he broke the team’s rookie record set by Julio Jones, who had 959 yards in 2011. Pitts also inched within 58 yards of the NFL record set in 1961 by Mike Ditka for rookie tight ends.
Falcons: close at home against NFC South rival New Orleans on Sunday.
Bills: close at home against the AFC East rival Jets on Sunday.
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