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The beginning of a journey | Josh Allen, Bills look ahead after memorable season

Josh Allen (17) and Stefon Diggs (14) interviewed. Buffalo Bills vs Baltimore Ravens, Divisional Playoff Game, January 16, 2021 at Bills Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert
Josh Allen (17) and Stefon Diggs (14) interviewed. Buffalo Bills vs Baltimore Ravens, Divisional Playoff Game, January 16, 2021 at Bills Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert

Tre'Davious White rehashed everything he had gone through for the benefit of his team over the past six months during a flight from Kansas City to Buffalo early Monday morning.

He had been diligent with film study. He made sure to stay hydrated and well-rested. He was active in the weight room.

"I did everything that I could," White said Monday, less than 24 hours removed from a 38-24 loss to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. "But sometimes it just don't go your way.

"But that's the beauty of sports. You get to go back and regroup and get better and find ways to be better. Try to come back next year and be a better version of yourself for your team. You try to put the team in the position we were in this year and try to go even further."

Josh Allen, Micah Hyde, and others spoke Sunday about how the Bills expected more out of themselves than a trip to the conference final. Such is the outcome when a team spends its season checking one box after another, shattering decades-long narratives along the way.

This was the Bills team that swept Bill Belichick. It was the team that won the franchise's first AFC East title since 1995 and hosted its first playoff game since 1996. It re-wrote the team record books on offense, scoring more than any group in Bills history with a passing attack built for the modern NFL game.

In the end, it wasn't enough. But the players who spoke to the media after cleaning out their lockers Monday remained steadfast in their belief that it was a step in the right direction.

"There's no doubt in my mind that we'll be back," Allen said, reiterating the comments he made postgame.

Allen carried the burden following a playoff loss to Houston in the Wild Card round a year ago and let it drive him through the offseason. He returned as a more poised quarterback, citing the lessons from that game following a fourth-quarter, game-winning drive against the Rams in Week 3.

By the end of the season, Allen had strung together the best statistical campaign by a quarterback in Bills history and vaulted himself into the MVP conversation. How might he treat this offseason, fueled by a loss that stung as much if not more than the one in Houston?

"Moving forward from here, if you don't win the whole thing, you're gonna have these sorts of feelings and these types of emotions," Allen said. "A lot to learn from; a lot to grow from. As a team we'll use it the right way. I got no doubt in that and the guys in this locker room."

You can bet Stefon Diggs was soaking in every last ounce of motivation as he stood alone on the field Sunday, helmet on and in full uniform while confetti fell and the Chiefs accepted the Lamar Hunt Trophy. Diggs established himself as a foundational piece for the Bills during his first season in Buffalo, a consensus leader who put together the most prolific receiving season in team history.

Diggs remains under contract for three more seasons. White signed a four-year extension before the season began, as did left tackle Dion Dawkins. General manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott – the architects of the culture that has produced three playoff berths in four years – both inked extensions over the past six months.

There will always be tweaking when a season ends with a loss. But players believe the foundation is in place for this season to be the beginning of a journey, not the end.

"You realize how close we are," Cole Beasley said. "We're not far. I talked about extra motivation and not really needing it. It's more so an excitement of being right there. We felt it before the game, you still have to go through certain things that kind of show you what you need to be where you want to be.

"We got showed that last night. I'd expect everybody to take that feeling in the offseason and do what they feel they need to to get us to where we want to go. This team's really good at that and that's why we've made it this far."

They have a clear hurdle to climb. The Chiefs have hosted three straight AFC Championships and will play for their second straight Super Bowl. Their assortment of weapons proved too much for the Bills to handle on both occasions when the teams met this season, first in Week 6 and again on Sunday.

What the Cowboys were to Favre's Packers and the Patriots were to Manning's Colts, the Chiefs could be to the Bills' aspirations of taking the next step. White acknowledged as much Monday. McDermott referred to the Chiefs as the Bills' "measuring stick" entering the offseason.

Allen, too, acknowledged the Chiefs as the gold standard. He pointed to their resume and the energy they seemed to play with on Sunday. He credited Patrick Mahomes with being a quarterback who is capable of giving his team a chance to win no matter the circumstance.

But Allen was also sure to differentiate between wanting to be them and wanting to beat them.

"I think that's what every team would want, to be in consecutive Super Bowls and have the ability to win multiple Super Bowls," Allen said. "That's something we have to step back and look at.

"We don't want to be them. We don't want to be anybody else. But we want to be the best version of ourselves here. We think that's good enough."

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