The 2022 season has come to an end much earlier than anyone in the Bills organization had wanted. As the players cleaned out their lockers today and had their final meetings, here are five observations as the team heads into the offseason.
1. Sitting with loss
After facing a tough playoff loss to the Bengals less than 24 hours ago, the mood in the locker room is much of the same when comparing it to last night.
"Sick. Just sick. It's the best way to put it," running back Devin Singletary said. "It's just a sick feeling."
"We got beat yesterday," safety Micah Hyde said. "We felt like we definitely just got beat all around. When a team's doing that to you, there's not going to be a bunch of energy, a bunch of juice."
When trying to find the reason why the loss happened in the way it did, offensive guard Rodger Saffold explained things weren't going their way.
"It just wasn't falling for us for some reason," Saffold said. "Guys are trying to fight through, trying to sprint off the line. Josh (Allen) was trying to make things happen, it's almost like being in quicksand. Like the harder that you fought, the deeper that you sank in the game, which is unprecedented for us."
"They were able to run the ball consistently," linebacker Von Miller said. "We weren't able to run the ball or convert consistently. We got down by 14 points early in the game, 14 points with snow on the ground and you're trying to make a drastic comeback against a good team, it's tough. That's the reality of it."
What is just as tough for this team to cope with is knowing they have fallen short of their goal of making it all the way again.
"Just working all year for the same goal and just coming up short again is very frustrating," tight end Dawson Knox said. "But then again, you learn a lot of things about yourself through times like this, and it's gonna give us a lot of good things to build on and things to learn from moving forward."
2. Proud of the resiliency
The 2022 season was unlike any season due to the adversity the team faced—losing Dawson Knox's brother, several season-ending injuries, three road games in 12 days, a game moved because of a snowstorm, being stuck in Chicago on Christmas Eve because of a second snowstorm and Damar Hamlin's situation. Teams might not even face a few of those things in an entire season, but the Bills experienced it all. Through each hardship, the team stayed together and kept pushing.
Losing in the divisional round wasn't the outcome anyone wanted but as the team heads into the offseason, they are proud of the way they handled the adversity.
"The weather issues, the injuries, just a lot of things that happened this year and to see these guys really keep fighting, keep coming to work, keep being positive, keep getting up in the morning, which is hard to do when the weather's bad, it's snowing," safety Micah Hyde said. "To see all that, I learned a lot about my teammates and I'm very, very proud of the players, the coaches, this organization."
"We went through a lot this year," running back Devin Singletary noted. "We could have easily just laid down early on and went our separate ways, but we banded together. Really, we're some fighters. That's the best way to put it. We're some fighters."
Knox, who lost his younger brother during the season, felt like the team really helped him get through it all.
"After losing my brother earlier, or I guess last year now, just having that support system of this staff, these coaches, and these players around me just to be there to have my back and lift me off in the hard times," Knox explained. "Something that I can't overstate my gratitude for, so definitely thankful for everybody here."
In the hardest moments of the year, many players realized the character of men they had standing beside them.
"It was so many different things that made me feel proud to be a Buffalo Bill and made me feel proud to be a part of this community," linebacker Von Miller said. "So this adversity that was presented, I've always been a fan of adversity reveals character and we have some high character guys in this locker room. Not only in a locker room, but in the front office in this community. And it's just an honor and a privilege to be associated with the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park and the city of Buffalo."
3. Players share thoughts on if the team "ran out of gas"
Battling adversity throughout the season arguably resulted in a low gas tank up and down the roster. After the emotion-filled season they had, the energy that the team had at the beginning of the season ultimately stalled throughout the course of Sunday's game.
"It was emotionally draining for obvious reasons, you guys all saw that," OL Rodger Saffold said. "I just kind of feel like we were tired. Guys were exhausted during the week and our coaches did the best they could to try to modify the week to get us back to stuff. But it was just uncharacteristic things that were kind of happening. So, I have to kind of put that into a factor, not as an excuse. This team has been fighting for so long and fighting through all this adversity, you run out of gas at some point."
The Bills fought all year long through a season that consisted of injuries, Buffalo winter weather issues, tragedies in the community, and a scary situation involving their own teammate. But any one of them will tell you that while the emotional toll may have caught up to them, it's not an excuse for why their season ended earlier than they were anticipating.
"It's not an excuse because I don't even know how you run out of gas. It's the playoffs. It's win or go home," WR Isaiah McKenzie said. "I felt like yesterday, it could have been the weather, it could have been all type of stuff … But I don't think we ran out of emotion, fuel, or whatever you call it. I just feel like we just lost, that's what it was. We played a very good team."
But despite not getting the outcome they were hoping for, the team is finding a silver lining in the way they persevered and came together as a team through this roller-coaster of a season.
"Guys just continued to fight and fight and a lot of it motivated us and just at the end we just ran out of gas," Hyde said. "A lot of things that happened this year and to see these guys really keep fighting, keep coming to work, keep being positive, keep getting up in the morning, which is hard to do when the weather's bad, it's snowing. To see all that, I learned a lot about my teammates and I'm very, very proud of the players, the coaches, this organization from the cafeteria ladies, the janitors, just everybody having a positive mindset in this building each and every day and that's something I've definitely cherished for the rest of my life."
4. The unknown and uncertain future of the locker room
Now that the 2022 season is officially in the books, the business side of the sport comes out in full force with free agency coming just around the corner. Looking ahead to next season, the Bills locker room will have a mix of new and familiar faces. With that in mind, some players on the current roster may have played their last game as a Buffalo Bill on Sunday afternoon.
One of those potentially being unrestricted free agent, RB Devin Singletary who will be exploring his options when he hits the market in March. As for what that looks like, the RB shared that hasn't given it too much thought yet because he didn't think the season was going to be over already.
"I'd love to be back here," Singletary said. "I love Buffalo, but it's a business. So, see how it plays out."
And Motor's teammates similarly expressed that they would love to have him, as well as the handful of other free agents, back in the room next season.
"Obviously, we would love to keep him," TE Dawson Knox said on Singletary. "I love the guy. He's an incredible football player and an incredible person. We just finished up year four together, so I'd love for that to keep going. If it was up to me he'd be here."
S Micah Hyde chimed in with similar emotions as he doesn't know what the future holds for his fellow safety and good friend, Jordan Poyer. Hyde shared that it was emotional to see Poyer end the last game the way he did, especially knowing he wasn't on the field with him.
"I've been in the league long enough, and I've seen a lot of teammates come and go, and Po would definitely be the one at the top of the list to see go, just because we were able to step into this place together in '17 and make a name for ourselves," Hyde said. "He helped me get to where I am in my career, and vice versa. We leaned on each other a lot over the last six years, not just on the field, but off. Just having just grown-man conversations, starting families together. Just everything. Every aspect of life."
The bond and comraderies throughout the Bills roster made for a tight-knit locker room, which makes the season-ending loss sting a bit more.
"It sucks saying goodbye to these guys that you may never we never play with again, never see again, and that's just kind of the fact of the league," Allen said. "It's a business at the end of the day. But I've got so much love for the guys in this locker room."
And the faith and confidence in the room, coaches, and Bills organization isn't going to change when next season rolls around. Having now 12 years of NFL experience under his belt, LB Von Miller believes that "sometimes more isn't always the answer and sometimes, you just have to keep playing" for another shot at the end goal.
"If I'm putting my GM hat on, I just want to line this team back up," Miller said. "Of course you want to tweak some things, of course you've got to debrief and see what you did great, see what you didn't do great and address those things, but I'm super excited to see this Bills team come together. Get some guys back healthy again. If I'm putting my GM hat on, I just want to line it up, same team, same coaching staff, same fans, same energy. Line it back up and let's do it again."
5. Looking ahead to 2023
As we spoke to several players at their lockers, they all expressed the same sentiment. They all didn't expect to be packing up their lockers today. Instead, they were ready to head to Atlanta. Unfortunately, that's not the case, so the Bills must begin to look to the offseason.
The team faced lots of questions as to what needs to be fixed for next season, and many couldn't put their finger on just one thing being the main reason why their season ended early.
"I don't think there's any one thing that pops out immediately, but that's why it's an important question because it'll take some digging to get to the bottom of it," Dawson Knox said. "But I think I'm speaking for the whole locker room when I say that we have faith in the people who will try to fix the problems."
There were also several rookies and younger players on the team who got their first shot at playing in the NFL. With a season under their belt, they'll head into the offseason with a list of things they want to improve on. Wide receiver Kahlil Shakir who finished the regular season with 10 catches 161 yards an a touchdown said he wants to get better in every facet of his game.
"Faster, stronger, obviously watch and learn from tape as well, trying to expand my knowledge on defenses as far as getting more of a better feel for the game as well and things like that," Shakir said. "It's gonna be a big jump from the first to second year, so just kind of make sure that I focus in on a lot of those deep key details as well as the small details as far as within my route running and cleaning things up with that."
For the veterans who can't count the many offseasons they've had across their double-digit years in the NFL, the message is simple.
"As competitors, whenever you lose, you go back to the drawing board," linebacker Von Miller said. "Like I've got to make some changes, I've got to do this, I've got to do that. I need to work harder. You should always debrief, but I honestly feel like we're in a unique spot here. We've got a great football team. We've got great coaches. We've got great staff, great players."
"You just got to continue to fine tune your craft in the offseason, continue to get better and understand that it's never going to be easy," safety Micah Hyde said. "It's never going to be easy. It doesn't matter how much work you put in."
When looking ahead to next season, some players are already fired up about the way he believes the team can return.
"I'm super excited to line back up and do it all over again," Miller said. "I'm super excited to get back to Rochester and go through training camp and to be healthy again. I'm super excited. Just because we lost to the Bengals, it doesn't diminish the type of team we have. It doesn't diminish our position in this league. We have a really good team, and our window is still open. Brighter days are definitely ahead."