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Bengals 27, Bills 10: Five things we learned

“Maybe next year,” Bills fans said for a 63rd straight season

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals dominated the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, NY, for the overwhelming majority of 60 minutes on Sunday. Their 27-10 victory sends them to the AFC championship game next weekend against the Kansas City Chiefs, and it brings Buffalo’s season to an end.

The Bills’ three regular-season losses were by a combined eight points. It was their first loss by multiple scores since November 21, 2021. It was also their first home playoff loss in the Sean McDermott and Josh Allen era.

Here are five things we learned — or, in many cases, things we suspected coming into this game that were laid bare by the Bengals — from this game.

Cincinnati won this game in the trenches

Missing three of their starting offensive linemen and coming into this matchup sporting some of the worst team rushing statistics in the NFL, Cincinnati ran the ball 34 times for 172 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and a touchdown in this game. Mid-way through the fourth quarter, before garbage time began, they were averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

Joe Burrow was sacked one time. Rarely was he pressured while he completed 23-of-36 passes for 242 yards, two touchdowns, with a quarterback rating of 101.9.

On the flip side, the Bills amassed 64 rushing yards on 19 carries (3.4 yards per carry). Allen was also only sacked once, but spent time late in the injury tent, had a bloodied elbow, and was harassed and hit routinely throughout the course of the game.

This was an ass-kicking.

Buffalo couldn’t counter Cincinnati’s opening punch

The game wasn’t even truly competitive at any point. Cincinnati quickly opened up a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, and the Bills only briefly brought the deficit to within one score thereafter.

Cincinnati’s offense registered seven first downs before they even faced their initial third down on the day. That was a 3rd & 3, and a Bills defensive offside flag gave them their eighth first down. Burrow was 9-of-9 for 105 yards and those two scores on the first two drives. The Bengals ended the first quarter with 160 yards of offense; Buffalo had eight (8).

That part of the game was an ass-kicking, too. Then the Bengals outscored the Bills, 13-10, from that point forward.

Cincinnati out-strategized Buffalo

McDermott and Leslie Frazier started the game in zone despite snow on the turf, and Burrow carved it up. A three-and-out by Buffalo’s offense left little time to adjust, and the issue snowballed. By the time the Bills switched things up and started running more man, the game had already functionally been decided.

On a critical 3rd & Short play in the second quarter, the Bills put seven defenders up near the line of scrimmage in a simulated pressure (and then brought it), but did not press the Bengals’ elite receiver, Ja’Marr Chase, at the line of scrimmage. Burrow took the snap, immediately lofted the ball to Chase, and the Bengals converted the easiest first down of the day.

On the other side of the field, Buffalo could not establish the run, were therefore immediately one-dimensional, and then only found an answer to the Bengals’ defensive pressure packages in fits and spurts — and largely due to Allen’s own athleticism, not anything schematic.

In terms of game plan, in-game adjustments, and overall coaching performance, this, too, was an ass-kicking.

An unfitting end for Jordan Poyer

Early in the fourth quarter, with the Bills already in panic mode, Burrow lofted up a deep pass down the left sideline toward Chase. Tre’Davious White trailed in coverage, and Jordan Poyer had help over the top. White interfered on the play, setting up a Bengals field goal (and the final score of the game), and as the ball hit the turf, White and Poyer collided. Both left the game and did not return as they were evaluated for head injuries.

Poyer, who has been with the team since 2017 and was a key figure in the team’s rebuilding efforts when McDermott came on board, is an unrestricted free agent after this season. He’s not the only one. General manager Brandon Beane has a lot of work to do from a roster-building perspective if he’s going to manage to help coax the Bills past the divisional round of the playoffs, where they’ve now exited each of the last two seasons, and it’s hard to see Poyer coming back. It’s been that way for a while.

It truly sucks that his Bills career ends this way, if that is indeed his final snap with this organization.

Josh Allen needs a lot more help

For too long, the Bills have operated under the assumption that their all-world quarterback can take them to any height. They were not wrong to think this; Allen is excellent, and while his performance against Cincinnati was one to forget, he made plenty of top-tier throws and is the reason the team even had a prayer at winning in the second half.

The approach is taking its toll. Allen is 26 years old. The number of times he has had to put the team on his shoulders to even get to this point is sort of mind-boggling. He needs a running game, better blocking, and more dependable receiving options beyond his top target. He needs a tougher, sounder-tackling defense to more frequently play complementary football.

Allen isn’t going anywhere, but accelerating cap hits on his contract will make it tougher for the Bills to find these pieces for him. The long offseason is about to begin, and the Bills have their work cut out for them — because now there are two teams in the AFC that stand between them and their ultimate goal.