Not Even Damar Hamlin’s Presence Helps The Buffalo Bills Avoid Being ‘Flat’ Against Bengals

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ORCHARD PARK, NY — This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end for the Buffalo Bills because storybook endings are generally fulfilling and uplifting and all sorts of happy.

But there’s nothing about this ending that’s happy for Western New York’s team.

Bengals 27.

Bills 10.

The Bengals advance to the AFC Championship Game next weekend against the Kansas City Chiefs, and that’s the second consecutive season Joe Burrow and his team make it to the conference title game.

The Bills go out of the playoffs with a thud. It’s the second consecutive season the team that fancies itself a Super Bowl contender goes out in the divisional round.

“We just didn’t have it today,” a somber Josh Allen said afterward.

That explanation feels hollow.

The Bills overcame a year of injuries, a mass shooting in their community and the Damar Hamlin cardiac arrest during a game three weeks ago.

And amid those events, some life defining, the Bills kept winning.

“Yeah, I’m proud of our guys how we handled situations throughout the year,” Allen said. “We could have made a lot of excuses throughout the year with what was going on.

“But guys continued to fight. We wanted to win this game. We want to win them all.”

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 22: Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills slides against the Cincinnati Bengals during the fourth quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Highmark Stadium on January 22, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Bills Seemed To Be Team Of Destiny

So this loss was unexpected. And it was unfulfilling because it leaves the Bills with goals unmet. And the wonderful Hamlin story must wait for another season to write a new chapter.

The last chapter of the Hamlin story this year was, well, strange.

The Bills actually had stuff working on their behalf on Sunday. They were playing at home. And the Bills say they were lifted by Hamlin being in the stadium.

This was Hamlin’s first Bills game since his scary, fateful cardiac arrest Jan. 2. He came into the locker room before the game.

“Yeah, just generally speaking out of respect for the environment in there, Damar was in the locker room pregame and just him being in the locker room, his presence, I think is good for the guys and I think for him,” coach Sean McDermott said. “It was a pretty cool moment.”

The Bills tried to share that moment with their fans. He was featured on the big screens that surround the field in the second half.

“The game wasn’t trending the way we wanted it to, but when they put him on the big screen it was just a great moment, keeping perspective of where he was a few weeks ago,” McDermott said. “Super happy for him and thankful his health is returning.”

It should be noted everyone described Hamlin’s visit as nothing but a positive moment.

“He’s not a big rah-rah guy,” center Mitch Morse said. “I’m sure at some point he’s a little exhausted of people asking how he’s doing or put in a position he didn’t ask to be put in. His presence alone, his smile and positive energy, which he’s always had, always interjects energy and good vibes. with the group.

“I was happy to see him. I’m really happy for the fans, the crowd, for him to be able to go out there. He’s worked hard to get in the position he’s in now.”

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 22: Head coach Zac Taylor of the Cincinnati Bengals shakes hands with head coach Sean McDermott of the Buffalo Bills after the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Highmark Stadium on January 22, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Buffalo Bills with a score of 27 to 10. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Matt Milano Says Bills Played Flat

The stunning thing about all that is at least one Bills player said his team came out flat. And stayed that way.

Hamlin was at a game for the first time. He spoke to the team. The Bills were playing the Bengals in a rematch of a game that was cancelled because of the Hamlin collapse.

And the Bills were … flat?

“I did feel that way,” linebacker Matt Milano said. “There was no real energy, no juice, no momentum. Usually we’ll get a stop and the offense will score. Or offense will score, we’ll get a turnover. Something.

“Something to bring some change of momentum. But there was none of that this week.”

That’s stunning. But it does explain some of what we saw.

This isn’t meant to disparage the Bengals. They were in the Super Bowl last year and came closer to winning it all than most folks seem to remember. They earned this victory.

What was surprising is the Bills went down kind of, well, easy. They trailed 14-0 after one quarter and were never really in this game.

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 22: James Cook #28 of the Buffalo Bills stiff arm Eli Apple #20 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the second quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Highmark Stadium on January 22, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Bills Beaten By A Better Team

The same Allen who came into this game as arguably the best quarterback in the NFL left as a guy who hasn’t won the big one in the divisional round two consecutive years.

The same Bills that embraced the idea they were Super Bowl contenders consistently lost at the line of scrimmage.

“I feel like as a whole everybody could have did more,” offensive tackle Dion Dawkins said. “It’s a group thing. And not to single out us but we take it personal.

“And now we have a whole offseason to fight that mental battle.”

All the factors that favored Buffalo and all the motivation they might have reaped from Hamlin’s presence (but apparently didn’t) ultimately resulted in a letdown.

Because none of those intangibles on Buffalo’s side could overcome the truth Allen kept repeating over and over.

“We just,” Allen said, “ran into a team that played better than us tonight.”

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

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