MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

For Baltimore Ravens fans living in Cumberland, you were, in theory, between a rock and a hard place Sunday night as far as which team you wanted to see advance to play the Ravens in Sunday’s AFC championship game, the defending world champion Kansas City Chiefs or the Buffalo Bills, the hottest team in football.

On their own merits it was like choosing between lethal injection or firing squad because that’s how good the Chiefs and the Bills are. Was it possible for neither team to advance?

Unfortunately, it will be the Bills who are not advancing, and it’s unfortunate because every single one of us was rooting for the Bills as Cumberland’s Ty Johnson was playing another terrific game for them in pro football’s biggest and brightest spotlight.

Beginning with the ad-libbed lateral from quarterback Josh Allen that picked up 10 yards on the Bills’ opening possession of the game, Ty continued to excel down the stretch, being on the field and turning in one of his best games at the biggest times and through the biggest moments in the most important game of the season.

At 5-10, 210 pounds, Johnson has been counted on by Buffalo for his blocking as well as having the ball in his hands, as he rushed for 40 yards on seven carries, with his longest run being 15 yards, and caught the only pass on which he was targeted for 14 yards.

Since the days when he starred at the University of Maryland, how many times have all of us said that all a coach has to do is give Ty Johnson a chance and he would be happy he did. Finally, Joe Brady, who took over as the Buffalo offensive coordinator in the 11th week of the schedule, heard us, though probably not. Better yet, he realized what he had in Johnson, who had joined the team from the practice squad four weeks earlier, and utilized his skills, his hard work and his understanding of how to play the game.

On a Sunday night national TV game against the New York Jets (stupid Jets), Ty took advantage of his opportunity, taking in a 28-yard touchdown pass from Allen on a jet-sweep play fake on 4th-and-1 and turned on his 4.40 speed to tight rope the right sideline into the end zone to extend the Bills’ lead to 22-6 in what became a 32-6 victory that put the Bills’ season back on track.

Ty had three catches for 47 yards that night and was a constant in every Buffalo game the rest of the way, as the Bills won five in a row to win the AFC East title, with perhaps his biggest game coming in the 31-10 win over Dallas when he had 10 touches for 58 yards.

In the 31-17 first-round playoff win against Pittsburgh, Johnson carried eight times for 26 yards, becoming the first player from Cumberland to play in the NFL postseason in 41 years.

As satisfying as it’s been to see Ty give his team the production he has provided the Bills with during the most crucial times of their season, perhaps the most gratifying part is the Buffalo coaching staff recognizing his talent, his drive and team-first approach and playing him when they absolutely needed to win.

Finally, somebody gave him the chance he has made himself ready for; and a very good team, a damn fine team, trusted him at the time of the season when trust is the most important element a team can have. And Ty Johnson, just as we’ve known him to be, and just as he always will be, proved himself to be worthy of the trust; and he returned this trust in kind.

From this perspective, this has been the most pleasing and satisfying aspect of Ty’s best and most successful season of his five-year NFL career (and just take a moment to think about that), particularly when you consider how it began.

He’s made it one of the most favorite NFL seasons that I can remember.

He’s a pro, man. How cool is that?

It’s incredibly cool, because it sure hasn’t been an accident.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT