1. Bills season ends unceremoniously at home
The Buffalo Bills 2022-23 season — one that had been full of emotional storylines particularly over the last two months — ended abruptly and quietly with a 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Divisional round.
It's the second-straight season the Bills have seen their playoff run come to an end in the Divisional round and it's just the second time in Buffalo Bills franchise history that they've been eliminated at home in the postseason.
From the Bengals' first play from scrimmage — a Ja'Marr Chase six-yard reception — to the Bills' last play from scrimmage — a Josh Allen interception — Cincinnati had a tight grip on the game and Buffalo couldn't shake free of it.
"They had a good game plan, we were expecting their best punch and they came out and they punched us," Bills QB Josh Allen said.
It took all of six plays for Joe Burrow and the Bengals to establish the early lead as Ja'Marr Chase was wide open for a 28-yard TD. Chase had 8.3 yards of separation on the busted coverage by the Bills, the most open he's been on any of his 25 career TDs, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
It didn't get much better the rest of the day for the Bills as they fell behind by scores of 14-0, 17-7, 24-10 and the final score of 27-10. Their lone touchdown of the game came on an Allen 1-yard TD rush in the second quarter. The Bengals chewed up over five minutes of clock on the next possession and got a field goal to make it a two-possession game again.
"They got into a rhythm pretty quickly offensively and we had a hard time getting them out of that rhythm," Bills head coach Sean McDermott said.
The Bills could never quite get in rhythm to get momentum back on their side to truly have the makings of a comeback. Five of the Bills' eight drives lasted less than two minutes.
"Offensively when you're not on the field and extending drives, it can affect the energy a little bit. I thought the guys came out with the proper amount of energy, but when they're in a rhythm offensively and you can't get off the field, that can tend to zap your energy," McDermott said.
2. Bengals dominate up front
One of the biggest storylines coming into the matchup was the Bills D-line vs. the Bengals O-line as Cincy was missing three starters. However, Buffalo failed to capitalize.
Burrow came into the day having been sacked 2+ times in each of his last four games, but Buffalo managed just one sack and three QB hits, giving the Bengals QB a clean pocket to throw from. Burrow went 10 of 13 passing for 118 yards and two TDs in the first quarter as Cincinnati jumped out to its 14-0 lead.
The Bengals neutralized Buffalo's pass rush with quick throws and an effective run game. Case in point: Deep into Cincy's second drive, Burrow handed the ball off to RB Joe Mixon who picked up a five-yard gain on first down to the Buffalo 15-yard line. On the ensuing play, Burrow faked a screen to Chase then threw down the sideline to a wide open Hayden Hurst for a touchdown. LB Matt Milano bit on the fake screen and the Cincy tight end went untouched for the score.
"They did really good as far as keeping the tempo at their pace and just being able to control everything," DT Tim Settle said, who played a larger role on defense in the absence of DaQuan Jones. "They controlled the game, they controlled the possessions and we just didn't execute in those areas."
The Bengals continued to cut and dice Buffalo's defense as Burrow completed 23 of 36 passes (64%) for two touchdowns on the day. Joe Mixon had one of his best days of the season running the ball. The veteran RB logged just his second 100-yard rushing performance of the year, churning out 105 yards on the ground and added a touchdown in the third quarter.
On the opposite side of the ball, Allen was under duress at key points of the game. While he was only sacked once, Allen was hit eight times and completed less than 60% of his passes.
"It was just pressure, man," veteran offensive lineman Dion Dawkins said. "Just a lot of single missiles, man. It's just guys coming from all different angles. Corners coming late, guys were running games on the inside and outside, just keeping us moving, just keeping us on our toes."
The Bills rushed 19 times for 63 yards (3.3 yards/carry) while the Bengals ran for 172 yards on 34 attempts (5.1 yards/carry).
"We didn't do enough I would say overall at the line of scrimmage tonight. Give the Bengals credit, but you probably saw what I saw," McDermott said.
3. Allen and Diggs held in check
The Bills have been no strangers to trailing early in games, only to find their footing on offense down the stretch, though that didn't happen on Sunday. Allen went 2 of 4 passing in the first quarter for 6 yards — a season-low through a game's first 15 minutes.
Allen was held without a touchdown pass at home for the first time this season and ended the year with at least one interception in four-straight games.
"We just couldn't find it. I thought we moved the ball when we had some of our possessions but the two early three and outs and just stalling throughout the game. You can't win football games that way," Allen said.
The QB tried to establish WR Stefon Diggs early in the game. Diggs had two of the team's first four targets but the QB/WR combo missed an opportunity for a big play on the first drive when Allen's third down pass sailed high.
The lackluster showing wasn't for a lack of trying. Diggs' 10 targets tied for the most he'd had in the Bills' last seven games, though the results just weren't there. Diggs finished with four catches for 35 yards.
"He's a fiery competitor, he wants the ball and whatever it was that we couldn't get him the ball tonight we're gonna have to learn from," Allen said.
Check out the best game photos from Bills vs. Bengals in the AFC Divisional Round game.