ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Nyheim Hines returned two kickoffs for touchdowns as he celebrated injured Bills safety Damor Hamlin, igniting an emotionally charged atmosphere, and Buffalo cruised to a 35-23 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday clinched the AFC’s second playoff seed.
The loss, with Miami beating the New York Jets, eliminated the Patriots (8–9) from the playoffs for the second time in three years, and just the fourth time in 23 seasons during Bill Belichick’s coaching tenure. Buffalo will now host their division rival Dolphins in the wild-card round next weekend.
With the game in hand, the Bills players raised three fingers in honor of Hamlin’s number and the crowd chanted “Hamlin!” Hamlin!
The Bills (13-3) closed out their season by winning their last seven games and overcame an emotional week that included watching Hamlin collapse after going into cardiac arrest and being revived on the field in Cincinnati on Monday night. Was devastated. ,
Then came the progressive good news of Hamlin’s remarkable recovery, in that he was not only able to breathe on his own, but also managed to address his teammates on Friday, saying “love you boys”.
And leave it to receiver Stefon Diggs, who visited Hamlin at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center immediately after the game, to wrap up the win with a 49-yard touchdown catch from Josh Allen to put Buffalo ahead 35–23 with 8 left. To seal : 51 left.
The sellout crowd – many of them wearing No. 3 Hamlin shirts and jerseys, and holding red hearts in the player’s honor – erupted as Allen walked off the field with his hands raised.
On the ensuing kickoff, which went for a touchback, all of the Bills special teams players ran into the end zone and cheered the crowd. The fans, as one, stood up and began a massive roar.
Allen finished 19 of 31 for 254 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
On the day the Bills celebrated No. 3, and with Hamlin watching and live-tweeting from his hospital bed in Cincinnati, two touchdowns by Hines proved crucial.
The crowd was barely in their seats after a pregame ceremony honoring Hamlin when Hines returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a score.
Their second put the Bills ahead for good, with 13 seconds left after Nick Folk hit a 24-yard field goal to put New England ahead 17–14 midway through the third quarter.
Acquired by Buffalo in a trade with Indianapolis two months earlier, Hines became the 11th player in the NFL to return two kickoffs for scores in a game, and the first since Seattle’s Leon Washington in 2010.
The Patriots needed only one win to clinch a playoff berth, but stumbled to close the season, losing five of their last seven.
Mac Jones finished 26 of 40 for 243 yards and three touchdowns, including two passes to Davante Parker and three interceptions – all coming in the second half.
Jones’ last two interceptions came on consecutive drives in the final six minutes.
Facing third-and-19 at the Buffalo 22, Jones’ deep pass over the middle went out of the hands of tight end Hunter Henry, and was picked off by linebacker Matt Milano.
On New England’s next possession, Jones’ pass went off the hands of Damien Harris, and into the hands of linebacker Tremaine Edmonds.
Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty had an interception and recovered a Devin Singletary fumble. The interception was the 35th of McCourty’s 13-year career, moving him one behind Ty Law and Raymond Claiborne for first on the franchise list.
McCourty, 35, made his 205th start for New England in what could be his final game for the franchise.
Patriots DT DaMarcus Mitchell did not return from injury.
Patriot: Season over.
bill: Host Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild-Card Game.
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