By JOHN ANDERSON
The graphics were hard to miss.
Fans of the Buffalo Bills had bought up a majority of the AFC Championship game tickets for the potential neutral site game in Atlanta against the Kansas City Chiefs. The stadium graphics showed where the Bills fans would be sitting and the hype was unmistakable.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who it seems everyone forgot was in the Super Bowl last season, led his team to two quick touchdowns and a 14-0 lead which was never challenged in a 27-10 win.
When asked on the field by CBS about the talk all week about the Bills-Chiefs game, Burrow smiled and said, “Better send those refunds.”
For the second straight year, the AFC title game will be the Bengals and Chiefs.
TALE OF TWO QUARTERBACKS
Burrow, who went 23-of-36 for 242 yards and two touchdowns to Ja’Marr Chase and Hayden Hurst, said they expected to win.
“It was a complete game from everybody, offense, defense, special team,” Burrow said. “Domination from start to finish, that’s what we expected. Job is not finished. We got another big one next week on the road and we’re excited for it.”
Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who was 25-of-42 for 265 yards and an interception, said they were “out-punched.”
“They had a good game plan. We were expecting their best punch and they came out and punched us,” Allen said. “Again, disappointment. You play to win, our goal is to win a Super Bowl, to win a World Championship. Everything we did this year is null and void, and it sucks.”
Allen ran for Bills head coach Sean McDermott said the bottom line is, the Bills have #17 as quarterback.
“Josh did some good things, we all want a few plays back,” McDermott said. “Josh is a heck of a competitor and I’d take him any day of the week on our football team and I love how competitive he is. These are things we have to learn from so we can continue to move this organization forward which is the direction we are going in.”
DEALING WITH DISTRACTIONS
When most teams were preparing for the season, the Bills were visiting neighborhoods in Buffalo after a hate crime that resulted in a shooting of 13, 10 fatally. The team dealt with snow storms, moved home games, and a few days of simply being numb after Damar Hamlin was injured.
“I’m proud of our guys, how we handled situations throughout the year,” Allen said. “We could’ve made a lot of excuses throughout the year with all that was going on. But guys continued to fight. We wanted to win this one, we wanted to win them all. But they played better today.”
McDermott the tragedies and triumphs were bigger than football and helped the players grow as a person.
“I’m most proud of the young men, the players, that they will take the lessons they learned from this season, the adversity, they will take it with them as men,” McDermott said. “I think that’s a bi-product of the season. The goal is to still win the Super Bowl. That’s what stings the most, but the sport does teach you things as a person and they will take that with them for sure.”
PLAY CALLING QUESTIONS
There have been questions about the play-calling of Ken Dorsey, who took over for Brian Daboll this season. Daboll led the New York Giants to the playoffs. Alex Brasky of the Batavia Daily News/Livingston County News, asked Allen and McDermott during the post-game press conference. Both were asked about the relationship and growth between Ken Dorsey and Josh Allen.
“Just the trust aspect of what he’s calling, (I’m) trying to be an extension of him,” Allen said. “I think statistically we were eerily similar or if not better than what we were last year. So again, to come in and to have some of that same group, you can continue to build on that.”
McDermott said both new play callers on his staff did good things and have things to improve on.
“We had two new play callers, both Ken and Matt Smiley, our special teams coordinators,” McDermott said. “Any time you go through a first year you are going to learn a lot, you are going to learn from the highs and you are going to learn from the lows.
“It’s what you do with that, with that education,” McDerott continued. “You move forward and it defines who you are as a coach and who we are going to be as an offense, in this case, or a special teams unit with coach Smiley. Both of those two guys are hard workers and I know it’s important to them. I thought in a lot of ways, they did a really good job and I’m sure they will look back and see ways they can improve as well.”
RETURN OF DAMAR HAMLIN
The Buffalo Bills offense was struggling. As the television feed went to commercials for the two-minute warning, a window was opened in a suite and Damar Hamlin appeared on the video board. He held up the signature heart shape with his hands and waved to the crowd.
As the fans cheered and showed emotion, the Bills offense came alive, but it only resulted in s field goal. Hamlin then took an elevator to the locker room at halftime and talked to his teammates. The Bills came out and scored a third-quarter touchdown, but that would be the last touchdown for the Bills of the game.
On Jan. 2, Hamlin, a Bills safety, was resuscitated on the field during the Bills-Cincinnati game before a national audience on Monday Night Football. He went into cardiac arrest after a collision. His eventual recovery brought the nation together in thoughts and prayers for his recovery.
His presence on Sunday was welcomed, the coaches and players said.
McDermott said, “Damar was in there pre-game and just his presence was good for the guys and also hopefully for him. I thought it was a cool moment, the game wasn’t trending for us the way we wanted, but when they put him on the big screen it was a cool thing. His health is improving and hopefully he will take it one game at a time.
Allen said, “Just his presence is a warm feeling. Obviously we wanted to play for him and continue our mission, but we ran into a better team tonight.”
Bills center Mitch Morse said Hamlin was put in a position he did not ask to be in. But he is still a positive force in the locker room.
“Just his presence, I think, speaks volumes. He’s not a big rah-rah guy,” Morse said. “I’m sure at some point he’s exhausted of being asked how he’s doing, he was put in a position he was not asked to be put in. His presence alone, his smile, his positive energy, which he’s always had, injects energy and positive vibes, which he’s always has.
“I’m really happy for the fans, the crowd, for him to be able to get out there,” Morse continued. “He’s worked hard to be in the position he’s in now.”
IT’S NOT A CLICHE, WE ARE FAMILY
Bills center Mitch Morse and offensive tackle Dion Dawkins were at the podium at the same time. They talked a lot about the bond between the entire offensive line.
“Every team says, ‘It’s such a special group,’ but there is a different pulse here. People inside this building and outside. Buffalo is such a special place,” Morse said. “There are ebbs and flows in the game. We all had our time in the sun not playing complimentary football (on Sunday). You win as a team, you lose as a team. All these cliches are a lot harder when it’s the end of the season and you won’t be playing with these guys again this season.”
Morse said the team has a goal, and it’s not to play for money.
“We didn’t sign up to collect checks and see what happens. We want to execute for the organization, the people and each other,” Morse said. “When the offense receives the ball, we huddle up and say let’s do it one play at a time and do it for each other. That group of guys went out there for the last time and that’s the toughest part of it. We only speak for certain guys, but the o-line had a special connection and it’s a shame we won’t be going out there again together.”
Dawkins added, “It sucks … I hate to be simple. We went out there, we wanted to win. We are here to win as many Super Bowl’s as possible.
“We want to compete at a high level and sometimes it gets to us … the good thing is, we got each other, we win together and we lose together,” Dawkins said. “I would do it all again, we have the best team, the best coaches, the best cafeteria guys, the best garbage men, it just fell apart.”
Jon Scott of Spectrum News tracked down two of the key free agents, running back Devin Singletary and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.
Singletary was upset with the result and said when the game ended, it hit him this could be his last game wearing #26 for the Bills.
“We just didn’t get it going enough,” Singletary told Spectrum news. “We had some mistakes and it cost us. It’s a sick feeling.”
As for this possibly being his last game, he said, “It definitely hit me. Not knowing if it’s my last game here or now, we’ll see how it plays out.”
Edmunds said he loves the way he is treated by the fans, community, coaches and his teammates.
“My emotions are too high right now to worry about myself,” Edmunds said in an interview with Scott. “I care so much about this team, this organization, it’s bigger than myself and worrying about what will happen.
“My focus was on winning this game with my brothers, the ones I sweat with and bleed with,” Edmunds said. “My focus was on this game. Hopefully I’m here, I love the brothers here, the coaching staff and the community has welcomed me so hopefully everything will work out in my favor.”
The television cameras showed Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs throwing his arms up talking to Allen after a drive. The wide receiver had four catches for 35 yards.
McDermott said he appreciates the passion Diggs brings to the team.
“He’s a member of the Buffalo Bills, he’s a competitive guy. That’s what makes him good is what you saw,” McDermott said. “He’s very competitive like we all are. We work extremely hard at these jobs to be the best we can be and it hurts. And I wouldn’t want a guy who doesn’t hurt. He put it all on the line out there, we put it all on the line out there and it hurts. That’s why it stings.”
When asked about Diggs leaving the locker room early, McDermott said, “he was there when I addressed the team and that’s what matters the most.”
McDermott was also quick to stop comments directed at his coordinators or players after the loss.
“You want to look anywhere? You start with me,” McDermott said.