ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Leslie Frazier’s faith in his Bills defense never wavered even at the lowest point of Buffalo’s season.
It was mid-November and the Bills were entering their bye week on the heels of a 32-30 defeat at Arizona. Immediately dubbed “The Hail Murray,” the Cardinals won on Kyler Murray’s desperation 43-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins, who outleaped three defenders in the end zone with 2 seconds left.
Frazier, Buffalo's defensive coordinator, recalled collecting his thoughts on the flight home when frustration turned to hope in coming to the realization of how the experience could become a valuable motivating tool.
“I said to myself, ‘If we handle this the right way, this could turn out to be a positive instead of a negative.’ It didn’t have to be something that carried over to the next one and affect the rest of your season,” Frazier said this week. “To our players’ credit, I think they rebounded. ... That was a hard loss for a lot of reasons and they didn’t let it hold them back.”
The Bills (15-3) have won eight straight since and are preparing to make their first AFC championship game appearance in 27 years Sunday, when Buffalo travels to face the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs (15-2).
Though much of the credit for Buffalo’s success has centered on a dynamic Josh Allen-led offense, the defense has shown signs of shedding its early season deficiencies to find itself gradually peaking over the final half of the year.
Buffalo has allowed just 137 points since the loss to Arizona after giving up 273 points in its first 10 games. And rather than blowing leads, the defense is now closing out victories as evidenced in two playoff wins.
Safety Micah Hyde, one of the defenders burned by Hopkins, sealed a 27-24 wild-card win over Indianapolis by batting down Philip Rivers’ desperation pass intended for T.Y. Hilton as time ran out. On Saturday, cornerback Taron Johnson punctuated the defense’s most complete performance by returning Lamar Jackson’s interception for an NFL playoff record-matching 101-yard touchdown in a 17-3 win over Baltimore.