Despite going out on such a deflating loss, Bills head coach Sean McDermott doesn’t think this automatically shuts Buffalo’s Super Bowl window in the seasons to come.
“No. No, this is a good football team,” McDermott told reporters. “And you learn from things like this. You keep knocking on the door. That’s what you do. You stay steadfast in your focus and your approach. You work your tail off. Again, that’s a good football team we just played, and they played better than we did tonight. They coached better than we did tonight. And we’ve got to learn from this and make the proper adjustments as we move forward. Staying in the moment tonight, I don’t want to get into any evaluations and all that type of stuff, but obviously disappointed in the result.”
Cincinnati’s ability to control the line of scrimmage and consistently run the ball throughout the game ultimately allowed the Bengals to hold onto a lead they first established on the game’s opening drive. The Bengals nearly tripled the Bills’ 63 rushing yards for the game, totaling 172 yards on a 5.1 per rush average. Cincy’s bruising rushing attack aided a 30-18 differential in first downs gained on the afternoon, helping the Bengals convert 60% of their third downs while Buffalo went 4-of-12 (33%).
McDermott credited the Bengals for winning those battles in the trenches.
“You’ve heard me talk about this before — if you want to win games on a consistent basis, that’s where the game starts. It’s there and it’s at the quarterback position,” said McDermott. “And we didn’t do enough, I would say overall, at the line of scrimmage tonight. Give the Bengals credit, but you probably saw what I saw.”
Going three-and-out in their first two possessions, the Bills were down early, 14-0, after allowing consecutive TD drives from the Bengals to start the game. Buffalo got back in the game with a 15-play, 85-yard touchdown drive midway through second quarter, but their next drive stalled near midfield after three consecutive incompletions by Josh Allen. The Bills started the second half with a balanced drive, but settled for a field goal from the 7-yard line. Down, 24-10, early in the fourth quarter, Buffalo’s other second-half possession in the red zone ended with a turnover on downs.
In between it all, the Bengals kept the Bills offense off the field and its defense laboring with a solid rushing attack.
“We had a feel for them. It wasn’t a surprise,” said McDermott. “After that first drive and a half, I thought we adjusted and knew what they were doing without getting into the details on it here. We had a hard time stopping them at the same time. The challenge with that offense is, you commit to stopping the run and then they got three really good receivers that are, one on one, tough matchups for you. I thought we came in with a good game plan, we adjusted through it, and at the end of the day it wasn’t enough.”
The Bills’ deficiencies on both sides of the ball was a glaring difference from a team that finished the season with the second-best offense (397.6 yards per game) and the sixth-best defense (319.1 yards allowed per game) in the league. Buffalo also ranked second in both points scored (28.4) and allowed (17.9) per game.
Those totals reflect a talented roster that has been in the Super Bowl mix for the past few seasons. Although the Bills will have an offseason ahead with pending free agents, most notably linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and safety Jordan Poyer, McDermott isn’t going to let a disappointing end evolve into a calamitous outlook going forward. And rightfully so.