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NFL playoffs: What We Learned from Bills' win over Steelers on Super Wild Card Weekend

1) Bills score early knockdown, finish strong to keep hot streak going. Buffalo came out of the gate on fire Monday, starting its day with a 10-play, 80-yard scoring march, then followed it up with a takeaway and a one-play touchdown to make it 14-0 within the first 11 minutes of the contest. Another touchdown drive -- this time, with Josh Allen ripping off a 52-yard rushing score -- and a 21-0 lead seemed to set up for a runaway win over the Steelers, but it wouldn't be that easy. Buffalo watched its lead dwindle down to just one touchdown before digging deep and finding a way to seal the victory, which came in fitting fashion when Khalil Shakir caught a pass underneath, broke a poor tackle attempt by Minkah Fitzpatrick, juked another defender and sprinted into the end zone. It was a perfect statement and finished another game in which some things came easy, but like much of Buffalo's season, it wasn't a complete stroll. If anything, the Bills have learned how to win ugly and emerge as the victor in the toughness battle. They proved it again Monday.

2) Steelers fail to overcome dreadful start. For nearly two full quarters, the moment appeared to be too big for quarterback Mason Rudolph. After posting three quality outings and serving as the much-needed driver of a suddenly surging Steelers offense, Rudolph showed why he'd been stuck on the bench for so long, throwing an interception and wasting a prime scoring opportunity in the process. But the backup deserves credit, because he and the Steelers did not surrender, fighting their way back into the game with a methodical, measured approach that saw Rudolph make some fantastic throws under pressure and find ways to convert in must-have situations. Ultimately, though, the early deficit and the pressure of the postseason was too much for the Steelers, bringing a disappointing end to a season that needed every stroke of luck to just get them into the postseason. Now, they have to figure out how to proceed under center in 2024.

3) Win comes at a cost for Buffalo. Part of the Bills' late-season surge to a division title came without a handful of key contributors, and on Monday, they lost a few more. Linebacker Terrel Bernard -- a revelation in Buffalo's defense in 2023 -- was carted off after suffering what is believed to be a sprained ankle. Defensive backs Christian Benford and Taron Johnson exited with injuries during the game, leaving the Bills without three starters (plus veteran Rasul Douglas, who was inactive due to injury) in the middle of a playoff game. To its credit, Buffalo persisted and managed to survive and advance, but the focus will now shift to the injury report as the Bills prepare for yet another meeting with Kansas City on a short week.  

4) Sloppiness dooms Pittsburgh. In the final three weeks of the regular season, the Steelers had finally seemed to work out all of the kinks that plagued them on their way to 7-7. Rudolph's insertion opened up the offense, the running game was cooking, George Pickens had once again become a big-play machine, and Pittsburgh's defense was getting the stops needed to win close games. But on Monday, the devil was in the details for the Steelers, who didn't tackle well for most of the game and paid for it dearly on Shakir's touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. A penalty on Myles Jack for hitting Allen as he slid gifted the Bills 15 yards, leading to the Shakir score, and this all happened after Pittsburgh turned it over twice in the first half, helping the Bills build an early three-score lead. Everything had to go right for the Steelers to even get here, and perhaps their luck was bound to run out. But that doesn't lessen the sting of bowing out of the postseason in sloppy fashion.

5) Familiar rematch awaits -- but this time, in Buffalo. The Bills' boogeyman resides in Kansas City, home of the reigning Super Bowl champions. The Chiefs might seem to be the most vulnerable they've been since the start of the Patrick Mahomes era, but that doesn't guarantee the Bills will have an edge, especially for a team that has been forced to grind out almost all of its last six wins. The main difference, though, is location. Mahomes will hit the road for a postseason game for the first time in his illustrious career, and will be entering incredibly hostile territory in Orchard Park, where Bills fans have years' worth of frustration and vitriol to unleash on Kansas City in the Divisional Round showdown. Can the Bills ride that emotional fuel to a win? Or is a familiar result ahead in a game that will pit them against their only insurmountable hurdle?

Next Gen stat of the game: Khalil Shakir had a 0.7% chance of scoring a touchdown when he caught his 17-yard touchdown pass from Josh Allen, gaining plus-14 yards after catch over expected and extending his streak of consecutive targets caught to 16 (dating back to Week 16).

NFL Research: Josh Allen's 52-yard touchdown run was the second-longest touchdown run by a quarterback in NFL postseason history, falling four yards short of Colin Kaepernick's 56-yard rushing score in the Divisional Round versus Green Bay in 2012.

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