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'We will be back' | Bills players react to loss in AFC Championship game

Stefon Diggs (14) Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs, AFC Championship Game, January 24, 2021 at Arrowhead Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert
Stefon Diggs (14) Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs, AFC Championship Game, January 24, 2021 at Arrowhead Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert

Stefon Diggs stood alone on the field at Arrowhead Stadium, watching in full uniform as confetti fell and the Kansas City Chiefs accepted the Lamar Hunt Trophy for a second straight year.

Diggs may not have known what to expect upon being acquired by the Bills in March, but he came in with an open mind. All the 27-year-old did during his first year in Buffalo was shatter franchise receiving records, earn an All-Pro nod and become a consensus leader on offense.

Who could blame him for wanting the ride to continue?

"Well, like the rest of the guys, he's very frustrated," Bills head coach Sean McDermott said following a 38-24 loss in the AFC Championship on Sunday.

"He's a heck of a competitor as are the guys in our locker room. It stings to get this far. Sometimes the further you go, the harder it is to lose."

Whatever goals or expectations may have been set prior to the season, there is little doubt that anything less than a trip to Tampa was on the Bills' collective minds coming into Sunday. This team, after all, had already aced so many tests.

Players sacrificed their personal lives to minimize the threat of COVID-19. They took action in the face of social injustice. They claimed their first AFC East title since 1995, then won their first playoff game since 1996. Then, they won another.

"You can always talk about the season that we had, winning the division, making it to the AFC championship game," safety Micah Hyde said. "I think that was good for a lot of people, but everybody in this locker room wanted more. Unfortunately, we got beat tonight. No other way to put it."

When it all came to an early end, players were left to grapple with what it all meant. The prevailing sentiments were that there remains work to be done, and the story is far from finished.

"It's going to fuel us," said quarterback Josh Allen. "I have no doubt in my mind that we will be back.

"... We're still young and we're only going to get better. That's one thing I take from this. We're close. The results weren't good tonight but I'm super proud of how our team fought all season and how we bonded together."

Here are more reactions from Bills players following the championship loss.

"It's going to be a really good offseason"

Jerry Hughes is the longest-tenured Bills player, one of only two members of the 2020 team who played for the franchise during the throes of its 17-year playoff drought.

He's been around for every milestone since. The 2017 team snuck into the playoffs with the help of a Cincinnati comeback. The 2019 group won 10 games and established itself as a legitimate up-and-comer. This year's team fell one win shy of the Super Bowl.

Hughes struck an optimistic tone when asked what gives him confidence the team can now take the next step.

"I'd have to say the locker room," Hughes said. "The atmosphere after the game, everybody understanding that when you come into somebody's house, you've got to be on top of your game. There's no slip-ups, there's no times for error or anything.

"So, to see a young group understand that, especially with the magnitude of this game and being so close. We climbed that mountain and to be so close to getting on top of that, I think guys will use this to fuel our offseason, especially at home where a lot of this work that we're going to do to is going to be on ourselves. I feel like it's going to be a really good offseason for us."

"That's our measuring stick"

The Chiefs have a chance to win a second straight Super Bowl, now having reaffirmed their position as the No. 1 contender from the AFC.

The Bills defeated three opponents who went on to make the playoffs during the regular season and beat the reigning MVP in the divisional round. They lost both of their matchups to the Chiefs, however, leaving them with a clear target moving forward.

"At the end of the day, this is our measuring stick," McDermott said. "If you lose in the AFC Championship Game, that's the team we've got to beat. So, we've got to do everything with that in mind this offseason."

"I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish"

Hyde was clear in saying the Bills wanted more. He also took time to appreciate how far they had come.

"I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish this year," he said. "I'm proud of the guys in this locker room. The ups and down of this season, not to mention COVID, which threw a wrench into everything. It was such a unique year.

"I can talk to you about that for about an hour and a half right now on how unique it was, the ups and downs. The stuff that you guys didn't even know about that honestly, we kept in-house. And it was frustrating. It was difficult. It was difficult because coming in each and every day trying to get a leg up on the rest of the the league because of these COVID situations, trying to become close and trying to have some kind of training camp and getting to know guys, all that type of stuff.

"It was hard. That's why I say it's a frustrating ending just because you know we accomplished a lot. But the way it ended was tough."

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