Buffalo's late rally in Cincinnati fell short as the Bills lost 24-18 to the Bengals on Sunday night. The Bills drop to 5-4 on the season and host the Broncos on Monday night next week.
Here's what we learned from the SNF defeat:
1 — Caught in the middle
The Bills first and last possessions of the game resulted in touchdowns. The two drives combined for 19 plays, 160 yards and 15 points.
In the seven drives in between, Buffalo ran 37 plays gaining 157 yards, 2 turnovers and 3 points.
What looked like a surefire shootout between the two teams with 21 points in the first three possessions turned into a battle of execution and field position. Unfortunately for the Bills, they couldn't do either at a high level during long stretches of the game.
"Came out on the opening drive, had some success moving the ball, and obviously hit a little lull there and didn't score really until late in the fourth," QB Josh Allen said postgame.
After the Bills scored on their first possession to match the Bengals opening score, Buffalo didn't get a first down on their next three drives. With Cincinnati leading 14-7, Allen threw an interception deep in his own territory, trying to squeeze a sideline go ball to Gabe Davis.
"Threw a bad ball, guy made a play," Allen said.
Buffalo's defense made sure the Bengals didn't turn it into points but the offense still stalled on their next try.
The Bills got into field goal range near the end of the first half down 21-7 until an unusual intentional grounding call was made against Josh Allen on a play that appeared to just be a miscommunication between him and Davis. The penalty knocked the Bills out of field goal range.
"I've never seen that call in my life," Allen said. "That's an option route, Gabe can sit down or go. I wasn't pressured, they decided to make that call and unfortunately it didn't allow us to get points there. I literally wouldn't do anything different. I'm expecting him to run a go, he made the read to stop. That's what it is."
While missing more starters on defense in the second half due to injury, including LB Terrel Bernard, Buffalo's defense still played inspired football and kept the game within reach. When the Bills were threatening in the red zone at the start of the fourth quarter, a crucial Dalton Kincaid fumble ended the threat.
"It's so unfortunate, obviously turning the ball over," Allen said. "You know, we're gonna have those and you got to limit those as much as you can."
The Bills got a late touchdown and two-point conversion — both to Stefon Diggs — though there wasn't enough time for them to get another crack at the comeback.
2 — Chase controlled, but Bengals burn Bills with secondary options
The Bills defense kept Ja'Marr Chase bottled up for most of the night, holding the star receiver to 9 receiving yards through the first three quarters and 41 for the game. Credit to Bills corners Dane Jackson, Christian Benford and newly-acquired Rasul Douglas as they switched off covering Chase throughout the night.
Jackson specifically was a bright spot for the defense as he broke up three passes, two of which were intended for Chase. Jackson helped break up a deep pass in the second half that could've gone for a touchdown had Chase come down with the leaping grab.
While Buffalo kept the Bengals' top pass catcher quiet, it was Cincinnati's secondary receiving options that made the timely plays.
If you didn't know who Tanner Hudson, Drew Sample and Irv Smith were going into Sunday night's game, you know who they are now. The Bengals trio of tight ends lifted up the Cincinnati offense in key moments.
Sample and Smith caught Joe Burrow's two TD passes while the 28-year-old Hudson had a career-high four catches and finished with the second-most receiving yards in his four-year career to this point. Sample had just three catches on the season coming in and doubled that total with three receptions for 30 yards and a touchdown.
The fifth-year TE swung the game at the end of the first half for the Bengals when it looked like he was staying in to pass protect, but leaked out underneath the Bills pass rush. No one accounted for Sample and Burrow dumped it off to him for a 22-yard TD to put the Bengals up 21-7 with under two minutes to go until halftime.
"Just got a little bit greedy with our man coverage," McDermott said. "We ran past our coverage and (Burrow) dumped it. We had the coverage we were looking for, he made a play and we got to be a little bit more disciplined there."
WR Tee Higgins also stepped up among the Bengals wide receiving core with a season-high 110 yards on 8 catches.
The Bills managed just one sack and didn't force a turnover; they haven't recorded an INT since Week 4 against Miami.
"Tonight I didn't feel like we were able to affect (Burrow) enough, especially in the early downs," McDermott said.
3— Outside looking in
The Bills now find themselves as the No. 9 seed in the AFC and out of the playoff picture. If the Jets win on Monday night, the Bills will be in third place in the AFC East with eight games remaining.
At 5-4, the Bills still have a daunting schedule ahead of them with looming matchups vs. the Jets (4-3), at the Eagles (8-1), and at the Chiefs (7-2) after next week's home game against Denver.
"Eight games left, we have five wins. So the math there, it's not pretty. It's not going to be easy but again, if there's a locker room that can handle this, it's this locker room right here," Allen said.
Despite the loss, Allen still feels a connected locker room that is willing to do whatever it takes to turn their misfortunes around.
"The guys in this locker room, we got a lot of guys that are unselfish players, guys that will do anything that they can to help his team win football games and this second half of the season," he said.
In 2021, the Bills endured a midseason stretch of losing four of six games to fall to 7-6, then rattled off four straight wins to get to the playoffs.
"Realistically if you want to look at it from a real view, you need 10, maybe 11 wins to get into the playoff picture in the AFC," Allen said.
"It's nothing that we haven't seen before. We just got to find a way to put it together."
Check out the best game photos from the AFC showdown between the Bills and Bengals in Cincinnati. This gallery is presented by Gabe's Collision.