Things couldn’t have started much worse for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon. They allowed a touchdown on the first drive and were never truly in the game in front of their home crowd, losing 27-10 to the Cincinnati Bengals and being eliminated from the playoffs in the AFC Divisional Round for the second straight season.
After the opening kickoff, Joe Burrow took the Bengals 79 yards in just over three minutes, going 4-of-4 for 64 yards through the air before finding Ja’Marr Chase for a 28-yard touchdown on a blown coverage over the middle of the field.
After the Bills went three and out on their first drive, Burrow was at it again.
He went 5-of-5 for 41 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown to Hayden Hurst on 3rd and 7.
The Bengals countered the snow and the loss of three offensive linemen by dialing up quick-hitting passes. The ball was out of Burrow’s hand in just over two seconds, taking advantage of Buffalo playing softer coverage due to the poor footing on the field. It was a strategy that didn’t pay off against Cincinnati’s deep receiving corps, and in the blink of an eye, the Bengals were up 14-0 and it seemed like the magical run for Buffalo would be over.
However, Buffalo found their groove for a little bit in the second quarter.
After two straight three-and-outs, Josh Allen led the Bills on a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took almost eight minutes off of the clock. Allen converted a 4th-and-1 on a sneak and then converted a 3rd-and-1 rush for a touchdown, willing his team back into the game.
However, they simply didn’t have the firepower.
Even after Buffalo got the benefit of a questionable call when Ja’Marr Chase’s touchdown was ruled incomplete, they couldn’t take advantage.
Down 17-7 with under two minutes to go in the first half, Buffalo drove down to Cincinnati’s 41-yard-line. But Devin Singletary dropped a pass on 2nd down and then Josh Allen missed Stefon Diggs on third down, forcing a punt.
Yet, the Bills still had one more chance when they got the ball to start the third quarter. They drove down to the Cincinnati nine-yard line, but couldn’t capitalize.
A poor play call on a first down draw lost two yards, and Buffalo was never able to recover, kicking a field goal to go down 17-10. Cincinnati immediately drove down the field for 75 yards on the next drive to punch in a touchdown and go up 24-10.
Whatever Cincinnati wanted to do on offense, Buffalo couldn’t stop.
The Bengals gained 412 yards on 5.8 yards per play. They turned the ball over zero times and converted on six of their 10 third downs. They ran for 140 yards on 5.8 yards per carry, committed only two penalties all game, and Burrow completed passes to eight different receivers.
It was just a dominant performance from last year’s AFC champions and a major letdown for a Buffalo team that had Super Bowl aspirations.
At the end of the day, for a team built to play in Buffalo, the Bills were completely overmatched in the snow. Their linebackers and corners missed tackles in the open field. Their defensive line got pushed back off the ball, and their offensive line couldn’t hold up in protection.
Still, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey seemed to refuse to lean into the short passing game, much like the week before. Instead of dialing up quick passes for their Pro Bowl wide receiver, Dorsey continued to try to drive the ball down the field, leading Allen to stay in the pocket for too long and continue to get driven to the turf repeatedly.
Joe Burrow limited the effectiveness of the Bills pass rush with quick passes; the opposite held true for Josh Allen and the Bengals pass rush.
Time to Throw vs Pressure Rate:
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 22, 2023
For Stefon Diggs to finish with just 35 yards on four catches is inexcusable.
In fact, for the entire game, the vaunted offense that has carried Buffalo for the last few years simply didn’t match up to the offense in Cincinnati. Stefon Diggs was a total non-factor, the running backs combined for 37 yards on 11 carries, and Gabe Davis dropped yet another long pass that would have been a huge gain for the Bills.
Dawson Knox was the team’s leading receiver with five catches for 65 yards, and the Bills scored only 10 points at home against a defense that was 18th in the NFL in scoring rate allowed.
However, beyond just the result on the scoreboard, it was the way the Bills lost that will sting into the offseason. They simply got manhandled in all facets of the game.
Even with Cincinnati clearly running the ball to milk the clock at the end of the game, the Bills were unable to stop Joe Mixon or Semaje Perine. They drove Bills defenders backward for yards after contact, and the Bengals ran five minutes off the clock, keeping the Buffalo offense off of the field until there was just 2:35 left on the clock.
It was a disappointing end to what was a trying season for the Bills.
After losing Micah Hyde for the season in Week 3, they also lost Von Miller for the season on Thanksgiving. They saw two of their teammates taken off the field in an ambulance, including Damar Hamlin after he suffered a cardiac arrest. They experienced two blizzards in Buffalo that forced a game to be moved and led to dozens of casualties, but there remained the idea that they would persevere as a team of destiny.
That hope was shattered just minutes into Sunday’s game.
Now, they will need to regroup and figure out how to rebuild the offensive line and provide Josh Allen with more weapons because they are dangerously close to wasting the prime of one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.