For about five seconds, a Highmark Stadium full of Bills fans that had watched in dismay as the Denver Broncos drove to set up a game-winning field goal exploded in jubilation as kicker Wil Lutz' 41-yard attempt sailed wide right.
The same stadium emptied just a few moments later as the visiting team's fans remained in the stands celebrating the Bronco's upset victory.
Because they had 12 players in to block the field goal attempt, the Bills were flagged and Lutz was given a chance to redeem himself – a chance he did not take for granted.
The Broncos took the game 24-22 as the Bills fall to 5-5 on the season as they enter one of the most difficult seven-game stretches in the NFL.
"It's not ideal," said center Mitch Morse after the game. "I think now is going to be the real test for this team. Not so much on Sundays, but how we stick together through this on the week. … I think the best teams, when the pressure's at its highest and when everything seems to be crumbling is when you know it's not and you come together closer."
Sloppy play plagued the Bills offense from the jump. Running back James Cook fumbled on the opening play for the first of four turnovers committed by Josh Allen and the Bills offense.
Allen, who threw a pair of interceptions and fumbled on an exchange with Cook, affirmed that he remained confident in the team's ability to respond to their recent struggles on the offensive side of the ball.
"I'm still confident but it's no secret the clock's ticking. Gotta have some urgency now," Allen said.
With games remaining two teams that have already defeated the Bills this season (the Jets and Patriots), the two previous Super Bowl contenders (the Eagles and Chiefs) and the 6-3 Cowboys and the 6-3 Dolphins, the Bills have the third-most difficult remaining schedule in the NFL according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
Riding a two-game losing streak, Morse and Allen were resolute in their confidence going forward but contended that they must improve their approach on offense.
"We have to make a few adjustments, but we know what works, so we have to double down on what we know works," Morse said. "For us, it's going to be insulating the outside noises and then just taking it one day at a time, having each other's backs no matter what. I think this team does that on a regular basis, but now we have to double down on it."
In 2021, the Bills were 7-6 before rattling off four straight wins to win the AFC East and made it to the divisional round in the 2022 playoffs. Allen recalled their ability to turn things around late in the season in 2021 when asked about why he remained confident in the 2023 team.
"Because we've done it before," Allen said.
In the locker room following the loss, the disappointment among the team was clear. Many were quiet, gathering their things and leaving. McDermott said that the frustration among the team was understandable considering the work that goes into preparing for each game.
"Guys are upset, they're frustrated. When you don't get the results you're looking for, you don't have the production you're looking for, they get frustrated," McDermott said. "I can promise it's not from a lack of effort. So we're just going to continue to reset, continue to make adjustments that we need to make. I know the result wasn't what we wanted it to be, but I do think there is some good football, at times, being played, but not good enough. So obviously, we have things to work on."
The Bills will host the New York Jets in Highmark Stadium Sunday at 4:25 p.m. The last time the Bills faced the Jets, Allen threw three interceptions and lost one fumble in a 22-16 overtime loss. Morse said that, even as one loss turned into another Sunday night, the Bills have to view the season one game at a time.
"We just have to execute when our number's called," Morse said. "And I know that might seem like a mundane weekly thing but it hasn't changed. That's the key to success and I think just doing our jobs, looking at it objectively like I said – I know I sound like a broken record – and make adjustments where the need be and look ourselves in the mirror."
According to ESPN analytics, the Bills currently have a 33 percent chance of making the playoffs. The players will have a day off Tuesday before resuming practice Wednesday in preparation of hosting the Jets.