Everything lined up perfectly for the Bills Divisional playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals at High Mark Stadium.
Damar Hamlin was in the house, and the crowd of over 70,000 roared when he waved. Then it started snowing with no wind to speak of. Where else would you rather be?
Little did most of us around here realize, this was a bad time to play the Bengals, who were also impacted by Hamlin’s on the field fight for his life 3 weeks ago in Cincinnati. While Bengals players and coaches were all in on cancelling the game, the NFL’s reshuffling of the playoff format seemed to heavily favor the Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.
Then to top off the disrespect, oddsmakers installed the Bills as 4 point favorites, and the line had moved to 6 by kickoff time. So the defending AFC Champs and near Super Bowl winners were almost a touchdown underdog?
It was fools’ gold.
The Bengals were missing 3 starting offensive linemen, and the conventional wisdom was that even without Von Miler, the Bills at home could put some pressure on Joe Burrow while handling the Bengals sputtering rushing game.
If this was a boxing match it would have been stopped. The Bengals dominated every aspect of the game from start to finish in a 27-10 win that crushed the Bills Super Bowl aspirations. Again.
Burrow was great. Easily the best performance by a Bills opposing qb all year, including Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. Burrow’s stats weren’t gaudy, but impressive under the conditions. He passed for 242 yards and 2 TD’s with no turnovers, and the Bengals rushed for another 172 to outgain the Bills 412 to 325.
This one wasn’t on Josh Allen, who will remain in the discussion of top NFL qb’s, but anybody thinking Burrow isn’t in that category with Allen and Mahomes just needs to look at the film. Burrow even outrushed Allen 31-26, as the Bengals D shut down the Bills running game. Allen was hit often, as he wound up with 265 yards, one rushing TD and one interception that came in the final minutes.
It’s just mind blowing how dominant the Bengals were in every aspect of this game. Their banged up O-line manhandled the Bills front 4, and the Bengals D line dominated the Bills up front. No doubt this makes a few Bills bashers in the national media (no need to name them, you know who they are) extremely happy to be right. The Bills were overrated. Good, but not championship caliber.
This is a devastating loss for the Bills, who have fallen a game short of the AFC title game 2 years in a row after reaching it 3 years ago. GM Brandon Beane, applauded for building a talented roster that included some cagey draft moves to land Allen and LB Tremaine Edmunds, faces some heat. Ditto for HC Sean McDermott, who was badly outcoached by the Bengals’ Zac Taylor in this one.
Although Stefon Diggs bolted out of the lockerroom after the game, McDermott said it wasn’t something he was concerned about. Allen was just the opposite, lingering at his locker much longer than usual.
Beane now faces a huge challenge. He has a franchise qb to build around, and Allen gave it all he had in this one. But he needs help. The Bills face some large salary cap hurdles now, which means some familiar names might have to go.
Right now it’s difficult to think about “next year”, but the QB and other key pieces are here, so no reason to believe the Bills won’t be a strong contender next season. But for now, the pecking order has changed. It’s Cincy-KC or the other way, and who knows what the ambitious Dolphins might do to push the Bills in the division?
Still, this season can’t be, and shouldn’t be, defined by one game, however disappointing.
The Bills became a national favorite after going through a gauntlet of events.
The Tops shootings. The snow storms that changed the Bills schedule. And leading the way, the stunning collapse of Hamlin 3 weeks ago in Cincinnati, where an entire nation watched players and fans come together. It’s a miracle Hamlin’s life was spared, and his eventual full recovery is heart warming. This was a special season, even though it ended so unexpectedly.
As Marv Levy put it, quoting Sir Andrew Barton, “Fight on my men! I am hurt, but I am not slain. I’ll lay me down(e) and bleed awhile, and then I’ll rise and fight again.”
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