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How Andy Dalton became the MVP in Buffalo

How does Andy Dalton become the biggest storyline in Week 17 of a season in which the Bengals are already eliminated from the playoffs? Here’s how NFL history — and Bills history — changed forever in the final week of the 2017 regular season.

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

On most NFL Sundays, Andy Dalton is just another quarterback out there. But this Sunday, when the Bengals came to Buffalo for a preseason game against the Bills, fans in Buffalo went wild, giving Dalton a standing ovation. Why? It goes back to last season.

In Week 17, the Bengals were already eliminated from the playoffs, and Dalton started off New Year’s Eve day far from being a top storyline around the league.

The Bengals were playing the Ravens in Baltimore in a game that had the potential to decide the Ravens’ and the Bills’ postseason fate. Meanwhile, the Bills were playing the Dolphins in a game they had to win as part one of two things that had to happen that day for Buffalo to make the postseason for the first time in SEVENTEEN years.

Both games started at 4:25 p.m. but it was the Bills who finished off the Dolphins first with a 22-16 Bills victory, making it so they would officially end their postseason draught with a Bengals win over the Ravens.

This is probably around the time when I should tell you I’m a Bengals fan.

And here’s around the point where you either 1) make fun of me or 2) feel bad for me.

But back to Week 17 of the 2017 season. There’s 1:23 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Bengals are trailing 27-24. Baltimore is feeling pretty good about its postseason hopes as all it needs to do is win to make it to the playoffs and kill Bills fans’ dreams.

Dalton has the ball and nearly gets sacked but breaks away and throws the ball down the field. Interception. Except it’s called back due to a defensive holding penalty on Baltimore.

Bills fans (and players) take a deep breath while watching on TV screens around the country. Bills players are actually in the locker room in Miami all watching anxiously together.

Dalton gets another shot at winning the game. On first down, A.J. Green gets called for an illegal shift, then there’s an incompletion, another incompletion and a three-yard catch by Tyler Kroft. The Bengals have one more chance to win the game on 4th-and-12 with 53 seconds to go. Cincinnati has nothing to gain by winning. In fact, they have draft positioning to lose by winning. But then a miracle happens for Buffalo. Dalton rockets a ball to Tyler Boyd who had a very lackluster 2017 season. Boyd breaks multiple tackles and scores an unbelievable 49-yard touchdown. It was potentially the best play by the Bengals all season long and it was their final play of the year, save for Dalton kneeling down to the end the contest moments later.

The Bengals won the game 31-27.

Baltimore fans lost their minds. Their season was over.

So did Buffalo fans, but for a completely different reason. The Bills were going to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years.

Suddenly, Dalton was the most famous man in Buffalo. He made it possible for the Bills to finally get back to the playoffs.

”He’s the second favorite quarterback in Buffalo right now. It’s Jim Kelly. Andy,” former Bills (and now Bengals) linebacker Preston Brown said this week.

I highly recommend watching the NFL Films “Turning Point” video on this series of events. It is incredible and shows the emotion of Bills players who longed for this moment for incredible lengths of time.

Dalton took centerstage in Week 17 of a season in which his Bengals finished 7-9.

Bills fans thanked Dalton by donating more than $415,000 to his foundation. That is how happy and thankful Bills fans were. And they donated to Boyd’s charity of choice, too. Dalton leading the Bengals to a win over the Ravens changed NFL history — and more specifically, Bills history — forever.

The applause Dalton got in Buffalo on Sunday might be the loudest you’ll hear all night. It might be the loudest applause anyone has ever heard in a preseason game.

Meanwhile, this offseason the Bengals and Bills have become fast friends. Buffalo signed former Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron in free agency, then traded Cordy Glenn and the No. 21 draft pick to the Bengals in exchange for the No. 12 overall pick. The Bills also signed former Bengals center Russell Bodine and the Bengals signed Brown. These teams have had an incestuous offseason.

So at 4 p.m. when the Bengals and Bills take the field at New Era Stadium, the game will mean a whole lot more than any normal preseason game. It’ll be a contest to watch and I have a feeling things will get emotional.

Oh, and to make this whole story even better, Dalton’s wife and members of the Andy & Jordan Foundation board of directors are in Buffalo this week to present a $450,000 donation to the Roswell Park Cancer Center in downtown Buffalo. That money largely is from Bills fans’ donations.

And that, is how Andy Dalton became the most valuable player -- and really, human -- in Buffalo.

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