Sean McDermott could sense the collective disappointment as he addressed his players inside the visiting locker room at State Farm Stadium on Sunday.
The Buffalo Bills were one play away from defeating the Arizona Cardinals and entering the bye week with an 8-2 record. Instead, they have an extra seven days to chew on the play-of-the-year candidate that ended up being the difference: a Hail Mary pass from Kyler Murray to a leaping DeAndre Hopkins in the dying seconds of a 32-30 Cardinals win.
McDermott shared his players' anguish afterward. He also knew it meant the Bills are doing something right.
"That's what I love about our guys," McDermott said. "This means something to them. It means something to win. It hurts when we lose. They put in the time, as do the coaches and the whole building. So, listen, we changed this place for the better.
"It's a shame when these things happen the way they do. And all I can tell you is that I've got a bunch of tough guys in this locker room, and gals. … We're gonna come back. We're gonna come back stronger."
Here are three takeaways from the Bills' loss in Arizona, beginning with reaction to the final play.
1. 'We can learn from this'
Dion Dawkins equated the feeling of the loss to being on the receiving end of a Mike Tyson haymaker. It's the sort of punch a player never wants to take again.
"This one hurt," the left tackle said. "I've never felt anything like this, but the good thing is that I know what this feeling feels like, and my teammates do too. And the good thing is that we can learn from it, we can move on and we can never get back to this feeling ever again."
Hopkins' catch undid what had been shaping up as a memorable finish for the Bills, who – after surrendering a 14-point lead and falling behind, 26-23 – marched down the field and took a four-point lead on a Stefon Diggs touchdown with 39 seconds remaining.
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray completed three passes to advance to midfield, using the last of his team's timeouts in the process. It culminated in a first-and-10 at the Arizona 48-yard line with the clock stopped at 11 seconds following a timeout by McDermott, a choice he made to give his defenders a rest and to purvey the offensive formation.
Murray dropped back and quickly scrambled left, evading a diving tackle attempt from defensive end Mario Addison as he sprinted toward the sideline. With Ed Oliver closing in on him with both arms up, Murray launched a prayer toward Hopkins in the end zone.
Hopkins was bracketed by three defenders – Micah Hyde behind him, Tre'Davious White to his right, and Jordan Poyer to his left. All four men went up for the ball. Hopkins came down with it.
"Me personally, I know I could've timed it up better," Hyde said. "I was trapped behind him. I was too worried about him getting over top of the defense. So I stayed back and tried to force everything to be in front of me. And at the same time, when the ball was in the air, I was stuck behind him. I wasn't able to get in front.
"And then he just timed it up better. He went up first. And on a play like that, it's like basketball, rebound, whoever's up first, times it up best, they will bring it down. That ball literally just stuck to his hands. Good throw by Murray. It just stuck to his hands. He was able to bring it down."
The play will live on highlight reels and the close nature of the loss will make it sting more. But part of McDermott's message was that it should have never came down to one play in the first place.
Buffalo took a 23-9 lead on a touchdown pass from Josh Allen to Cole Beasley coming out of halftime. Arizona responded with 18 unanswered points in the quarter.
The Bills had three offensive possessions prior to their go-ahead drive in the fourth. Two were stifled by penalties and ended with punts; another ended with an interception from Allen.
"They made the play, the special play they had to make to win the game and beat us," McDermott said. "But that game should not have come down to that play and, unfortunately, it did. So, we take our lumps, we live by it and we learn from it and it's got to drive you harder, man. It's got to drive us all harder to want it more."
Buffalo is still 7-3 and in sole possession of first place in the AFC East, a half game ahead of Miami. Hyde had little interest in silver linings afterward, yet he echoed his coach regarding what's ahead.
"Everybody in this locker room has faith in the person next to them. I'm not worried about that. We wanted to get (win) No. 8 before we got into the bye. That was important to us. We put a lot of work in this week for that. We felt like we came here, we made enough plays to win the football game, just didn't make one more. It's unfortunate.
"But I think this group of guys no matter what, from the special teams to the offense and defense, we rally around each other so I'm not too worried about us feeling this for the next couple of weeks."
2. Beasley, Diggs continue to produce
Buffalo's go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter must have felt like déjà vu for those who watched the team's Week 3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. There was Allen, calmly leading the Bills downfield to salvage a lost lead. And, once again, he found a reliable target in Cole Beasley.
Earlier in the week, Diggs went out of his way to deliver a PSA to the media: "Cole Beasley is always open." He sure looked it on the final Bills drive, hauling in four catches for 32 yards – none more impressive than an acrobatic, one-handed grab on the edge of the sideline for an early first down.
Beasley finished his day with a game-high 11 receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown. His 642 receiving yards and 55 receptions are career highs through 10 games.
"Beasley is that guy, you know he's been that guy for a long time," Dawkins said. "And that's our guy. Guys can't guard him. He's elusive, he catches the ball and he's a vet. And that goes from offense to defense to our entire team, it's filled with guys that perfect their craft and Beasley is a guy that perfects his craft, and then puts his own flavor in it and I'm happy to call him my brother and I'm happy to call my him my teammate."
Diggs finished with 10 receptions – including four on the final drive – for 93 receiving yards and a touchdown. He beat three-time All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson for the go-ahead score, lunging to haul in a well-placed pass from Allen on the left side of the end zone.
Beasley and Diggs became the first Bills receivers to tally 10 or more receptions in the same game. They join an exclusive list of Bills receivers with multiple 10-catch performances in a single season, accompanied only by Andre Reed, Pete Metzelaars, and Eric Moulds.
3. Defense continues to make progress
The Bills defense learned it would be shorthanded Saturday when it was revealed cornerback Josh Norman has tested positive for COVID-19. That news also cost the team cornerback Levi Wallace and safety Dean Marlowe, both of whom were identified as potential close contacts.
"We take pride in the standard we have here of playing well no matter who is in the game," Hyde said. "I was out a couple weeks ago against New England. Dean stepped in and the standard didn't change. That's the mindset that we have."
Buffalo shored up its defensive backfield by calling up cornerbacks Dane Jackson and Daryl Worley from its practice squad. Jackson – who had an interception after being thrust into a starting role against the Jets in Week 7 – once again found ways to be a difference maker, breaking up a pass to Hopkins in the end zone during the first quarter and later recovering a fumble forced by Taron Johnson.
The Bills defense as a whole, meanwhile, showed positive signs while facing a high-powered NFC West offense for the second straight week. Murray's attempted runs were met by layers of defenders throughout the first half, limiting the quarterback to just 19 rushing yards midway through the third quarter.
Arizona got Murray going with a couple of read-option plays later in the third, but the Buffalo defense responded in the fourth. Prior to the winning drive, the Cardinals had three possessions in the final quarter. One ended in a Jordan Poyer interception; the others were both three-and-outs.
"We came back and made some adjustments to your point and we were getting the ball back to our offense," McDermott said. "… At the end of the day, it came down to a one-score game and it should have never came down to that."