If Sean McDermott's head coaching philosophy had to be summarized in two words, they could easily be "complementary football."
It's a phrase McDermott has used throughout the season to describe how his team has performed. When the Bills dominated the Dolphins defense, shut down their offense and controlled the field on special teams, they played great complementary football.
In Sunday night's 24-18 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, all three phases struggled to play in synch with each other.
"Just too inconsistent overall," said head coach Sean McDermott after the game. "Not enough complementary football. Turned the ball over twice, I thought the defense got off to a slow start the first drive in particular. … Too much inconsistencies in the kicking game as well as just the offense overall. Some good plays and just not enough of them."
The first three drives of the game looked like the beginning of a shootout. Cincinnati strung together a nice drive and found the end zone. Buffalo played at a high tempo ending in a Josh Allen rushing touchdown, his sixth of the season. Joe Burrow once again picked apart the Buffalo defense and running back Joe Mixon ran for a touchdown.
On their second drive, the Bills offense couldn't take advantage of a pass interference call that set them up near the 50-yard line and punted after running just four plays.
"I thought we got off to a really good start in a rhythm and then after that it was tough sledding," McDermott said. "And that can't happen against a good football team that is known for scoring points."
While the defense would only allow 10 more points after the Bengals' second drive, the Bills offense couldn't put anything together before halftime. On their third drive, Allen threw an interception. On their fifth, a miscommunication between Allen and wide receiver Gabe Davis turned into a surprising intentional grounding call, one that Allen said he had never seen before, that knocked the Bills out of field goal position to end the first half.
To open the second half, Allen led a drive into the Cincinnati red zone, but couldn't connect with Davis on a third-and-9 shot to the end zone.
"We had our opportunities, didn't score before half, didn't get six in the first drive of the second half. That's not complementary football, you've got to double dip and get the points there," Allen said.
The Bills offense and special teams units did their defense few favors in terms of where Cincinnati's offense started their drives. Because of Allen's interception and two punts within the Buffalo 15-yard line, the Bengals' average starting field position was on their own 32-yard line. In contrast, Buffalo's was on their own 20.
McDermott cited the offenses' difficulty to establish the run as a reason behind the lack of complementary football displayed in their loss. As a unit, the Bills rushers (Allen and running backs James Cook and Latavius Murray) combined for 16 carries and 68 yards, their lowest total of the season.
"You have to [establish the run] in order to move the chains and keep a good offense off the field. And I think that's all part of being a good offense is being two-dimensional," McDermott said.
Von Miller, who said that he felt the best he has in a game since tearing his ACL in November 2022, also echoed McDermott and Allen's emphasis on playing complementary football. As a two-time Super Bowl champion, Miller knows the long-term commitment required to improving over the course of a season.
"We just gotta stay focused. Started off just a tad bit too slow on all three phases," Miller said. "We just got to keep going and get back in the lab and see what we did good, see what we did wrong and just keep pushing."
A team captain and often a source of positivity for the Bills, Miller expressed his confidence in the team moving forward.
"We've got a really good team," Miller said. "We've just gotta keep grinding. We have a great quarterback, offense is great, defense is great, we just lost to a great team today and that's going to happen."