Stefon Diggs led the NFL in catches and receiving yards in his first season with the Buffalo Bills, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic, he had never played in front of a home crowd until the Bills’ 27-24 victory against the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday in Orchard Park.
The Bills, in conjunction with state and local officials, allowed about 6,700 fans in Bills Stadium to witness the team’s first playoff victory since 1995, and Diggs played catch with several of them during warmups, tossing spirals into the stands.
Diggs, the NFL's leading receiver, wanted to get the fans in on the action and was playing catch with several fans in the 100 level near the end zone during warmups.
“I’ve been doing it since I got in the league as far as interacting with my fans … so I wanted to keep the tradition going,” Diggs said. “I wish there were some more kids out there. I only got some adults, so I’ve got to work on my arm, but it was definitely a hell of a time and I look forward to doing it again.”
Buffalo was winless in its last six playoff appearances, including first-round losses in two of the last three seasons. But this year has been different.
The offseason trade to acquire Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings coupled with Josh Allen’s incredible improvement in touch and accuracy resulted in a franchise-best 501 points, a 13-3 record and the No. 2 seed in the AFC, ensuring home games through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Bills were 7-1 at home during the regular season but hadn’t left the field to cheers until Saturday.
“For the fans to stand behind this team the way they’ve done over the years,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said, “and the fans and how much noise they made today, even at 6,700, I guess, was the number, incredible, man. You could feel it in the air. Just the atmosphere and the environment was almost like it was full, especially down the stretch there.
“Just special. Only in Buffalo.”
Allen said the atmosphere was “crazy.”
“For the fans to be allowed and experience that with this team, it would have been a shame if we couldn't do it,” Allen said after the team pulled out a one-score victory after winning its last six games by double digits. “I know it was only 6,700, but it’s more than zero. I’m super excited for the fan base here. I don’t think the guys really understand the meaning and impact of winning a playoff game for this franchise. But at the same time I think we’re not in tune with that because we want to win more. One’s not good enough for us and we have to find a way to put our best foot forward this week and try and execute next week no matter who we play.”
The turnout was appreciated by newcomers and veterans alike.
Defensive end Jerry Hughes, whose eight seasons in Buffalo make him by far the longest-tenured player on the team, was thrilled by the noise level and the reaction of his teammates.
“It was amazing,” Hughes said, “just hearing guys on the sideline just kind of questioning, saying, ‘There’s no way there’s 6,000 people in the stands.’ Just to hear that roar coming out of the tunnel at the beginning of the game, and then on third downs just to hear that crowd noise, it was exceptional. It was amazing. I tell the (new) guys they’re still just getting a little taste of Bills Mafia, and when they’re able to come back into the stadium full-fledged, you’ll really be able to feel it. … I know that they said there was only supposed to be 6,000 people. It felt like 15-20,000, man.”
Veteran safety Micah Hyde, who knocked down a Hail Mary as time expired to preserve the victory, said the volume on the field exceeded his expectations from the start.
“We came out today, running out of the tunnel, and they called it 6,700 fans, but, man, that place was rocking,” Hyde said. “It was louder than I expected. I’m not going to lie. Didn’t even have the upper deck. Nobody was even in the upper deck and it was wild to hear.
“But when I was running out of the tunnel I literally got chills thinking that, ‘The fans are back. This is weird.’ I’m used to it being quiet. But it was just awesome to get a win in front of Bills Mafia in Orchard Park for the first time since ’95.”
Center Mitch Morse, in his second season with the team after beginning his career in Kansas City, said he was impressed not only by the noise level but the positivity, even as the offense sputtered throughout much of the first half.
“I’m very proud of the fans,” Morse said. “Especially when things weren’t going right, they were very patient. They were just exceptional, because they had chances to boo us and they didn’t. It’s very heartwarming. There’s a lot of patience with them. Their impact was definitely felt and I’m glad that home field advantage is definitely something that, even with the limited capacity, definitely made a difference.”
Middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds said the experience was gratifying after playing in front of empty stands at home games all season.
“It meant a lot just to feel that energy from them,” Edmunds said, “and to be able to come out and get our first win in so long in front of Bills Mafia, that’s what makes it even more special. I’m already looking forward to the next game.”