ORCHARD PARK, NY — Micah Hyde sat deep in center field as Mac Jones took center on a first-and-10 with just over five minutes left in the first quarter. The Patriots were trying to respond to a Josh Allen touchdown drive so peppered with hammering runs and unlikely ballet passes that the stadium was already a deafening cacophony of ’80s metal riffs and screaming fans in industrial ski gear, drinking courage. homemade liquid from Aquafina water bottles. converted shakers.
Jones was doing his best Tom Brady impression on the play, faking a quick-release hit to a receiver creeping up the middle, which seemed to isolate Hyde in the middle of the field. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor had a pass over Bills cornerback Levi Wallace, and Jones must have thought he had enough wiggle room to pull the trigger on a deep shot. It did not have the challenge of physics.
Seeing Jones position his body for the throw, Hyde began a 21.4-yard run to the ball that, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, he covered in less than three seconds. Even if he had been harassing Jones on purpose, he never would have left that much cushion. This was an all-out athletics rush to football in an attempt to prevent their opponents from believing the illusion that they belonged here.
The result was a grip reminiscent of an out-of-position outfielder trying to steal a baseball in the warning lane. arms out, Hyde caught the ball into Agholor’s ear hole, Agholor’s arms outstretched waiting for the pass, hoping it was there.
Forty days ago, in this very stadium, Hyde embodied the collective frustration of a Bills team that had just suffered an emotionally debilitating loss to its divisional nemesis on national television. He was the last man on screen behind Damien Harris at the end of a 67-yard touchdown run. He was the last man at the lectern at a news conference, working out with a reporter who had just asked him if the defense had been embarrassed by New England’s 46-run game plan that stuck a bony finger in the collective chest of a team that maintained its ability to stop the sacrosanct race.
At the time, there was no telling if this would be the start of a tailspin or the start of an awakening. For a long time, the Patriots have rigged the AFC East to their liking. Even during a season when the Bills were clearly more talented, they had to deal with the idea that maybe they weren’t physical enough. That they could be outmatched under bright lights. That his own arctic environment could turn against him. The Bills lost their next game, to the Buccaneers in overtime, before winning four in a row, including their second meeting with the Patriots in Foxboro.
The interception dug out any gravel that would prevent a total collapse of the Patriots. The Bills quickly scored again and again (and again). The end result was a demolition that unleashed a primal exorcism for a fan base that needed to see New England convincingly in their rearview mirror before they could once again set their eyes on a Super Bowl pipe dream.
At the half, the score was 27-3, the biggest deficit by a Bill Belichick team after two quarters. Ever. Early in the quarter, when Allen threw for his fourth touchdown of the night to put the Bills up by 30, Orchard Park was complete chaos. “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey blasted through the sound system, followed by The White Stripes and Rage Against the Machine, the kind of playlist that would incite the destruction of every folding table still standing in Western New York.
Hyde, perhaps more than Allen, was the perfect leader of chaos. It was, rightly or wrongly, the face of bitter defeat, but it remains the face of Buffalo’s collective rise: the face of a team built brilliantly on the shoulders of castaway role players brought here to change the division.
On almost every attempt Saturday, Jones had to deal with a mirage at safety, with Hyde and Jordan Poyer moving from the box to third safety, from a lightning backup to covered safety. Almost all releases, by necessity, were relatively conservative. Only three of his attempts went beyond 20 yards. Jones was able to connect deep only on a broken play. When the Patriots tried to run the ball, they were collectively challenged, with Hyde and Poyer throwing their bodies at offensive tackles twice their size, collapsing the running lanes as a result.
The ball was returned repeatedly on offense, and on each possession, Allen methodically worked his way down the field, buoyed by a running game that topped five yards per carry. It was the first offense in history to start the game by scoring four straight touchdowns against a Belichick defense. They nearly doubled that total by the end of the night.
The beating was the visual accompaniment to a perfect night in Buffalo, the end of a backdoor that began hours earlier in a piercing sun. Temperatures hovered around 10 degrees. It was so cold that the blue sanitary water in the portable toilets froze. Burnt barrels and open tailgates with half-full bottles of Jack Daniels lined the stadium alongside a phalanx of Zubaz-clad worshipers ready to bring the place down.
After the game, Hyde sat in the same space he was in more than a month ago, finally jokingly asking the same reporter if he had any more questions. He reiterated what he said that night: that he would remember how he felt after his first loss to New England and the perceived disrespect. Even after one of the most dominant playoff wins in recent NFL history, the Bills protected their identity. They insisted that this was who they were all along, even if we couldn’t see it back then.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.