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I know we're not ready to process the fact that the Buffalo Bills' season is over, as many of us are still trying to come to grips with our emotions following the latest disappointment. Many are frustrated, bitter, confused, and possibly just fed up with their favorite football team after falling short of expectations yet again.
It's understandable to have mixed feelings about how to feel about this team's effort. Should we point fingers, criticize opponents or refs, or even question coaching decisions after such a bad loss?
The truth is, there are many reasons to be upset with how the Bills finished their season, in a 27-10 loss in the Divisional Round. Not to take anything away from the Cincinnati Bengals, as they proved yet again that they're an elite team, reaching the AFC Conference Championship two years in a row. But a 17-point loss just wasn't what anyone was anticipating, not for this Rumbling Herd.
Especially considering Buffalo's worst loss all season came by just three points. We can't help but wonder how differently the outcome could have been had Buffalo had a chance to play their originally-scheduled Week 17 matchup against Cincinnati, giving the team a good feel for what to expect come playoff time, but that's simply another excuse. Cincinnati dealt with similar conditions.
We could go on and on about a tough ending to another rollercoaster season, but that would be doing an injustice to all the bright spots we got to experience throughout the year. Instead, let's look back at the season that was. One that saw the Bills have their second 13-win season in four years.
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Buffalo Bills' 2022-23 season got off to a red-hot start
After going 11-6 in 2021, also reaching the Divisional Round, but appearing like a team destined to go even further, the Bills made some much-needed improvements to the roster. This included adding eight-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Von Miller, who was just months removed from helping the Los Angeles Rams win a Super Bowl. While Buffalo had a collection of young pass rushers, none were as accomplished as Miller.
With a preseason over/under win total set to 11.5 games, the Bills appeared to have all the makings of a squad ready to compete for a Lombardi Trophy.
The thought was that Miller could be the final piece of a mostly-completed puzzle, helping bring home the franchise's first Super Bowl trophy later in February. Based upon their early returns, smashing the Rams by 21 points and the Tennessee Titans in a 41-7 beatdown, the Bills were headed for greatness.
But there are always variables that teams simply cannot plan for. Who expected the Miami Dolphins to go all out this offseason, acquiring several Pro Bowl players themselves, such as Tyreek Hill? In essence, coach Mike McDaniel turned Tua Tagovailoa from a dud into a stud, and it led to Buffalo's first loss of the season, a 21-19 defeat in Week 3.
But then the Bills rattled off four more wins, defeating veteran coaches like John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin, and Matt LaFleur to get to 6-1. But they once again ran into a much-improved AFC East team in the New York Jets, who managed to force two Josh Allen turnovers while sacking him five times in a 20-17 defeat.
We thought this was the low point of the regular season, but the very next week saw an inexplicable loss to the Minnesota Vikings in overtime. Somehow the Vikings managed to come back from a 13-point deficit in the final 10 minutes of the game, thanks to a 32-yard Justin Jefferson catch on 4th-and-18 that should have never happened.
The Bills had suddenly lost two games in a row but were still 6-3 and in a good spot to keep their playoff hopes very much alive. Buffalo managed to win their next seven games, including two over the New England Patriots, to destroy their chances at reaching the playoffs while also defeating the Jets and Dolphins once more.
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Bills bounce back after two tough losses, only to lose Damar Hamlin
Lost in this seven-game win streak was the tragic injury Damar Hamlin suddenly suffered in Week 17. How can we honestly sit here and say this incident didn't have a large impact on the Bills' season? Not as an excuse but from a human perspective.
Say you witnessed one of your co-workers simply doing their job when suddenly they fall seriously ill, and you yourself see them require life-saving measures just to get them breathing again? Would you be able to immediately resume your work like nothing ever happened?
Do you think your performance would be impacted? Some may think, well, I'd use it as motivation to try and persevere for my good friend and teammate, but the human heart and brain just aren't that stupid. Obviously, emotions are involved, not only in the game of football but especially so when it comes to matters of life and death. There is no 'good' time for something like Hamlin's injury to occur. Still, in the case of the Bills' 2022-23 season, it's hard not to wonder what the year could have been like had No. 3 just been able to avoid that fateful play, allowing him to continue on with his teammates on the gridiron for the playoff run.
In the end, the NFL decided to cancel the team's Week 17 matchup in Cincinnati, but the damage had already been done.
In the following two weeks, we saw a team that managed to beat the Patriots and Dolphins, but any Bills Fan will tell you the wins weren't exactly convincing, and we didn't see the team's best effort. That would only continue against the Bengals in the Divisional Round.
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Bills Fans have a right to be angry yet appreciative
Some may look at the results of the final game and want to start moving toward pressing the reset button on a smaller scale, whether that means letting defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier go for his questionable coverage schemes in clutch situations, moving on from fiery personalities like Stefon Diggs, or even reining Josh Allen in a bit to help him prevent such costly turnovers.
But, really, this was a Bills team that dealt with several major injuries to key contributors all season, yet they still managed to have the NFL's second-highest-scoring offense and the NFL's second-lowest-scoring defense. Shouldn't that be celebrated?
Sometimes, as fans, we just need a reminder of how tough it is to win in football. We go into a season with a short list of Super Bowl favorites, expecting one or two of these teams to be on the final stage, but life rarely works out as planned. If there's one lesson to take from this past season, it's exactly that.
Bills Fans, we hear you. You have a right to be bothered by another letdown, but you know what, isn't having a team that's at least capable of reaching the playoffs much better than the alternative?
Remember the days of J.P. Losman or E.J. Manuel? Life as a Bills fan could always be worse. Let's just appreciate the fact that after another long offseason, Buffalo will enter the year as a strong bet to reach the postseason once again heading into the 2023-24 year. Will you be along for the ride?
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Final season grade: B-
If we had to place a grade on this past season, we'd give it a B-. Had the Bills not had Super Bowl expectations coming into the year, it would likely be a B+. As mentioned, there were several highlights to enjoy, and this was a tight-knit Bills team that was an absolute blast to watch this season. Yet, it's hard not to look back with a bit of a bitter taste in our mouths, knowing more success may have been left on the table. But there's always next year.