ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — It was a familiar moment with a far different outcome for Bills receiver Stefon Diggs now that Buffalo has Von Miller to lean upon.
Walking off the field in Kansas City after Dawson Knox scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:04 remaining, Diggs issued a forceful but simple message to Miller on the sideline.
“Finish the game,” Diggs said.
In an eerily fitting 13 seconds later, Miller did just that.
Lining up on the left side, Miller faked left and burst inside to get around tackle Andrew Wylie and flush Patrick Mahomes out of the pocket. Miller then got his right hand on Mahomes’ jersey, forcing the quarterback to double-clutch before throwing a short pass intercepted by Taron Johnson to seal a 24-20 victory.
In January, in a similar situation, the Bills infamously fell short, blowing a three-point lead in the final 13 seconds of an eventual 42-36 overtime loss in the AFC divisional playoff round. Mahomes completed two passes for 44 yards to set up Harrison Butker’s tying field goal. Mahomes’ second completion, a 25-yarder over the middle to Travis Kelce, came with pass rusher Jerry Hughes — the player Miller has replaced — coming a step short from getting to the quarterback.
The contrast between the outcomes wasn’t lost on Diggs.
“It’s crazy, because we’ve been there before and those moments feel like not even deja vu,” he said following. “It seems like something brand new.”
That difference is Miller, who at 33 is hardly brand new, but adds an imposing presence to Buffalo’s defense.
“No, I don’t think it can be understated at all,” coach Sean McDermott said of Miller’s addition.
“He’s an elite player. He’s brought a mindset to our football team,” McDermott added. “He’s taught and brought an assertive leadership type of approach to our football team. He’s truly a special human being, and we’re happy to have him.”
Not coincidentally, the Bills are happy to enter their bye week at 5-1, the best record in the AFC. Even after this weekend’s games, Buffalo will still top the conference when it returns to host Green Bay on Oct. 30.
And Miller, who initially second-guessed his offseason decision to leave the defending Super Bowl champion Rams and bright lights of Los Angeles for a rust-belt city such as Buffalo, is glad to be a Bill.
“To come out here and have success like this, I have been around Josh since March, and he came out here and played his (behind) off,” Miller said, referring to quarterback Josh Allen.
“Defense, we do what we do,” he added before paying tribute to Bills fans. “I am happy for Bills Mafia, because they deserve wins like this.”
The buzz in Buffalo is at full tilt.
And while fans spent this week renaming a portion of Buffalo’s Hertel Avenue to “Hurdle” in honor of Allen leaping over Chiefs safety Justin Reid for a 16-yard gain to set up Knox’s TD, much of the credit also belongs to Miller.
So far, he looks like the missing piece on an otherwise deep and talented team that has fallen short in playoff losses at Kansas City in each of the past two seasons.
Miller is tied for second in the NFL with six sacks, and is part of a defense that’s allowed the fewest points and second-fewest yards in the league. That’s a significant jump even over last season’s unit, which finished first in numerous statistical categories but also padded its numbers by beating up on weak opponents.
Buffalo went 11-6 in 2021 but was 2-4 against opponents that made the playoffs. This year, the Bills already have wins against the Rams (3-3), Ravens (3-3), Titans (3-2) and Chiefs (4-2).
This is the impact general manager Brandon Beane expected Miller to make when he altered what was supposed to be a conservative approach to free agency by signing the player to a six-year contract that pays him more than $52 million over the first three seasons.
“I don’t ever plan to be a big spender. I want to build and grow our own. But I’m never going to shy away from seeing if there’s something there. And in this case, we all watched this guy down the playoff stretch and what he showed he’s still got,” Beane said in March. “So that’s why it made sense.”
Miller’s addition also took the burden off what Beane anticipated would be a young secondary after losing starting cornerback Levi Wallace to free agency and with Tre’Davious White’s availability uncertain while recovering from a season-ending left knee injury. Buffalo’s secondary has held up, even after losing starting safety Micah Hyde to a season-ending neck injury in Week 2. White began practicing last week and could return in time to face Green Bay.
Suddenly, an already sturdy defense has a chance to become stingier. Buffalo has five games left against division rivals, a shot at winning its third consecutive AFC East title and the inside track for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
If it means yet another rematch against the Chiefs, so be it, now that Buffalo has Miller, a two-time Super Bowl champion who relishes each opportunity he has to be a difference-maker.
“That is why they brought me to the Denver Broncos, and that is why they traded for me to the Rams last year,” Miller said. “And that’s why I’m here. It’s in the job description.”