The Buffalo Bills are breaking bad
After another loss to another contender, the gap between the Bills and the heavy hitters in the AFC is painfully clear.
CINCINNATI, Ohio — Nothing is more emasculating to an NFL team than a complete inability to get off the field.
When a defensive coach cannot get his defense off the field, egos begin to crack. Foundations crack.
After Josh Allen found Stefon Diggs for both a touchdown and a two-point conversion, it was crunch time for the man who seized playcalling duties over the offseason. Three minutes, 32 seconds remained when Sean McDermott lifted the play sheet over his lips. He had no margin for error after blowing one timeout on a foolish challenge. Lined up in shotgun, Joe Burrow slid his protection left with a loud “Lester! Lester! Lester!” because, no, these Bengals did not bust out the goal-line package. Did not do what 95 percent of teams would in this same clock-bleeding position. They stayed aggressive.
Burrow lobbed a perfect ball to Tyler Boyd for 32 yards.
It was ballsy. It was beautiful.
Two plays later — on third and 3 — eight Bills defenders crowded the line of scrimmage. Cincinnati ran directly at the pressure. Specifically, Von Miller. The edge rusher earning $20 million this season lunged and whiffed to polish off his 24-snap, zero-tackle disappearing act. A few kneeldowns later, Miller was the first player to immediately run off the field.
All a painfully familiar refrain for Western New Yorkers: Game on the line. AFC showdown. Bills fold.
This 24-18 loss had a demoralizing punch to it.
After completing his 155th career game — and his 108th as a Bill — safety Jordan Poyer looked mentally exhausted inside the locker room. I asked him plainly: What’s the difference between these Bills and those Bengals? The team Buffalo cannot seem to overcome? Headphones around his neck, roller bag in his hand, he said the defense has to get the ball back to Josh Allen. “Punting,” he added, “isn’t good enough. We’ve got to find ways to get the football back.”
“It’s a good football team we lost to,” Poyer said, “and hopefully we see them again.”
Poyer has been here since Day 1. After testing the market in free agency, he chose to return to Buffalo for Year 11. He called this “home.” After playing through a slew of injuries in 2022 — including a collapsed lung that forced him to drive 14+ hours to Kansas City — Poyer believed this Bills team had unfinished business. And here he stood, again, trying to make sense of a loss to the Bengals. He tried to find kernels of optimism in the crash-to-reality loss.
“I always look at things from a different lens as far as perspective,” Poyer said. “We’re at 5-4 midway through. Obviously not where we want to be. But I know we’re a good football team. We’ll try to put things together and hopefully make a run down the stretch.”
The Bills may be “good” but the Bills, lucky to be 5-4, most certainly are not great. And that’s the problem.
It’s more obvious than ever that this team’s Super Bowl window is closing. They haven’t felt this far away from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in a half-decade. Naturally, the head coach is leaving a bread-crumb trail of blame. At his postgame presser, McDermott made a point to bring up the fact that the running backs had eight attempts. “You have to do that to move the chains,” McDermott said, “and keep a good offense off the field. That’s part of being a good offense. Being two-dimensional.” The surest sign that the head honcho is gently leading Ken Dorsey down the plank.
Has Dorsey been perfect? Obviously not. But if McDermott does strip away his playcalling at any point this season, that’d be an incredibly weak move.
Any head-scratching play call is a symptom — not the root cause — of a team breaking bad.