The Buffalo Bills wilted under the spotlight of a playoff game with immeasurable stakes, losing their redux of a highly anticipated showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals 27-10. The Bengals dominated the Bills from the get-go, and while the Bills clawed back some points to keep the game to a seven-point gap in the third quarter, they spent most of the afternoon playing like the younger brother who inevitably loses every single wrestling match in the house.
Joe Burrow was surgical early and avoided mistakes late. Joe Mixon ran for a 100 yards and a touchdown. And above all else, the Bengals’ offensive line made Buffalo’s defense look like a JV squad on this snowy day, knocking them around and keeping the pocket clean for Burrow to do his work. Buffalo’s defense had no answers. Their best work came in the red zone, where they held the Bengals to two field goals and two touchdowns — but we’re still talking about a team that allowed their opponent to drive deep for 20 of a possible 28 points.
Meanwhile, on offense, the Bills looked lost. You could tell this game was settled from the very first quarter, as the Bengals confidently zoomed to the end zone over and over, while the Bills tentatively tried to gain four yards on every play. Whatever creativity or individual talent the Bills had earlier in the season seemed to wisp away into the snow today — Allen couldn’t find a single teammate to help him make a highlight.
The end result, a clear and total domination by the Bengals, is the end of Buffalo’s season. Three outstanding regular seasons end with three consecutive playoff losses before tasting the Super Bowl. Maybe it just wasn’t their year, and maybe this team doesn’t have the killer instinct to win it all. Either way, there’ll be a lot of soul-searching around One Bills Drive for the next couple of months, because this team didn’t pay enough dividends and the rent is coming due.
- The Bills had to line up their fourth-string safety, Cam Lewis, in the second half of the game, because Dean Marlowe suffered a groin injury that took him out of the game. Micah Hyde and Damar Hamlin were, as you already know, not available.
- Jordan Poyer and Tre’Davious White managed to (apparently) concuss each other in the fourth quarter, on a play where White was flagged for defensive pass interference. The two were closing in on Tee Higgins deep downfield, but Higgins lost his footing, and the Bills collided with a sound audible from the broadcast booth. Both players jogged into the locker room. White returned before the end of the game.
- The game could scarcely have started worse for the Bills. The Bengals opened up with a 14-point lead, gaining 10 first downs as the Bills gained a mere eight yards in the entire first quarter. Buffalo outscored Cincinnati 7-3 in the second quarter, to keep the game close through halftime, at least.
- Cincinnati set a franchise playoff record for most first downs gained in this game. They punted twice and never turned the ball over.
- The disparity between Buffalo’s defensive line (minus Von Miller and DaQuan Jones) and the Bengals offensive line (minus three starters) was as gaping as the Grand Canyon. The Bengals ran for nearly 6 yards per carry. Joe Burrow was hit only three times in the entire game.
- Meanwhile, the Bills offensive line turned in a pathetic performance against Cincinnati’s defense. Josh Allen was hurried on half of his dropbacks and hit eight times. The team only had 58 rushing yards on 18 carries.
- Josh Allen was supposed to avoid turnovers and his team would be fine — that’s what every analyst said this week. Well Allen didn’t turn the ball over until the final minute of the game, and his team still lost by 17 points. Maybe there’s a lesson to take away from that.
- Allen was held without a touchdown pass for only the second time this season.
- Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis all but vanished in this game, combining for six catches and 69 yards. Dawson Knox practically outgained them by himself.
- Credit to Cincinnati’s defensive scheme, and coordinator Lou Anarumo, for a masterclass on disguised blitzes that crippled the Bills again and again.
- Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano were the leaders on the Bills defense again today, combining for 22 total tackles, 2 passes defended, 2 TFLs, and a sack.
- No one else on the Bills’ defense had a real positive impact on the game. Dane Jackson broke up a deep pass. Shaq Lawson almost injured Joe Burrow when he was blocked into the QB as he tried a pass rush. That’s... about it.
- Damar Hamlin and his family were present for this game in a box suite. It wasn’t the result they hoped for.