ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Adversity finally caught up to the Buffalo Bills, who were left depleted and defeated while closing an emotionally draining season two wins short of their Super Bowl aspirations.
Unable to draw on the motivational inspiration of injured teammate Von Miller displaying the Super Bowl trophy he won last year in the locker room this week or injured safety Damar Hamlin’s surprise appearance at the stadium Sunday, the Bills delivered a dud in a 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in a divisional playoff game.
“Keep their head up,” coach Sean McDermott said he told his players afterward. “Even though this hurts, I’m proud of them in the way that they handled themselves with class this year in the ups and downs and the adversity they faced.
“They’ll take that with them, but for right now, this stings. I wish it were a different result.”
The Bills were flat from the beginning, seemingly spent from a two-month stretch in which they watched in stunned horror as Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated on the field in Cincinnati on Jan. 2, had their schedule disrupted by two winter storms, and showed signs of fatigue in a sloppy 34-31 playoff-opening win over Miami last week.
The Josh Allen-led offense opened with two three-and-out possessions, in which it gained a combined 11 yards.
And Buffalo’s bend-but-don’t-break defense fully unraveled while allowing Joe Burrow to complete his first nine attempts for 105 yards and two touchdowns as the Bengals built a 14-0 lead with 3:47 left in the opening quarter.
It was a hole too big to climb out of for a hobbled defense.
Miller has been sidelined with a knee injury since November. And Buffalo has spent much of this season playing with a patchwork secondary missing starting safety Micah Hyde (herniated disk) and Hamlin, his backup. Jordan Poyer, another starter, was playing through an assortment of injuries.
“Regardless of the struggles or not, we wanted to see this through the end,” left tackle Dion Dawkins said. “It definitely stings a little bit more knowing that this particular group went through so much and this chapter is closed.”
The Bills, whose three previous losses this season were decided by a combined 8 points, had an eight-game winning streak snapped. They also dropped to 13-2 when hosting an NFL playoff game.
Despite matching a single-season record with 13 wins, the Bills’ playoff run ended in the divisional round for a second straight year. Last year, the team was left frustrated following a 42-36 overtime loss to Kansas City in which Buffalo blew a three-point lead in the final 13 seconds of regulation.
Against Cincinnati, the Bills were unable to muster much of a response.
They had a season-low 10 points and allowed the Bengals to rack up 30 first downs — the most since allowing 30 to the Chiefs in the playoffs last year.
Receiver Stefon Diggs let his emotions get the best of him when he was spotted leaving the Bills' locker room with much of his gear still on shortly after the game ended. He needed to be coaxed back by a teammate, and was present for McDermott’s postgame speech, which is all that mattered to the coach.
“He’s a competitive guy. What makes him good is what you saw,” McDermott said. “It hurts. I wouldn’t want a guy that doesn’t hurt.
"We put it all on the line out there and tonight it wasn’t good enough.”