New York State In-depth

Buffalo Bills and Josh Allen reflect on the emotional toll of the 2022 season

ORCHARD PARK — As you might imagine, there were sad faces in the Buffalo Bills locker room Monday morning and into the early afternoon.

Cardboard boxes were strewn about the vast space and players grabbed shirts, shorts, tracksuits, shoes and other items from their individual stalls. No one was playing cornhole, no one was playing ping-pong, and the usual light-hearted and sometimes boisterous chatter was replaced with the tempered talking one would expect in church.

There just wasn’t much to celebrate as a season they felt shouldn’t be over is now over.

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“Honestly, I don’t know when I’m going back to California,” said quarterback Josh Allen when asked when his offseason work would begin with his QB coach Jordan Palmer. “Obviously I didn’t really plan it. So just figure things out while we get here, just play by ear.”

The finality of losing in the playoffs smacks players and coaches in the face like the falling boulders that crushed Wile E. Coyote in the old RoadRunner cartoons. You live this adrenaline pumping existence for six or seven months, maintain a frenetic pace in pursuit of a championship, and then it takes 60 lousy minutes like Sunday and it’s over.

Bill's quarterback Josh Allen gets hit after a brief win against the Bengals.

“Sick,” said running back Devin Singletary. “That’s the best way to put it, man. It’s just a sick feeling.”

“I think shocked is the right word because none of us saw this coming,” tight end Dawson Knox said.

Instead of making game plans for the Chiefs in Sunday’s AFC Championship game, they’re trying to figure out what they’ll be doing over the next three months until the off-season training program begins in the spring.

But as difficult as Monday was, coping not only with disappointment at losing to the Bengals but also with the knowledge that many of the players will not be returning next year, it was a chance for the Bills to take a deep breath fetch.

The 2022 season will ultimately be remembered for the Bills falling short of expectations and advanced goals, but it will also be remembered for the trials and tribulations they faced throughout the year.

Siran Neal looks at the scoreboard during the fourth quarter of the Bills' playoff loss.

They are dealing with an unprecedented series of events, including severe weather that upset their schedule; so many injuries on the defensive side of the ball; Knox lets his younger brother die unexpectedly; Co-owner Kim Pegula falls seriously ill; the Matt Araiza situation; and, of course, the near-tragedy of Damar Hamlin, which forced a game cancellation, a first in the modern NFL.

Any one of those events alone could have ditched a few teams, and when you add them all up, it’s quite remarkable that the Bills have won 14 games out of 18 and really only played one stinker, even though it came at the absolute worst possible time.

“There was a lot of adversity that this team dealt with,” Allen said. “I’m still proud of our team, how we handled some of those really adverse situations. There were a lot of things and like I said, the way our team handled it, there are times where we could easily have allowed it to be an excuse, but we didn’t.

And that’s true, but in hindsight it seems like it all took a toll on the team, a point raised by both Rodger Saffold and Micah Hyde, who said it almost felt like the team had “the Run out of fuel” is the end of the season.

“It was emotionally draining,” Saffold said. “I kind of feel like we were tired. The boys were exhausted during the week and our coaches did their best to try and change the week to get us back to snuff. This team has been fighting and struggling through all this adversity for so long that at some point you almost run out of gas.”

Saffold, of course, played all season, Hyde didn’t. He was injured in Week 2 and never returned to play after neck surgery, although he said that if the Bills had won Sunday he was medically cleared to play this weekend. Still, Hyde was at the facility every day, experiencing the same emotions his teammates struggled with, only minus the physical strain of the games.

“All the things that this team has been through, it’s certainly never been in such a resilient team,” he said. “Just things that happened that were clearly out of our control and the guys just kept fighting and fighting and a lot of that motivated us and we just ended up running out of gas.

“We’ve struggled all year … just a lot of things that have happened this year and to see these guys really keep fighting, keep coming back to work, keep staying positive, keep getting up in the morning, what with bad weather is difficult. It’s snowing. To see all that, I learned a lot about my teammates and I’m very, very proud of the players, the coaches, this organization. It’s something I will definitely cherish for the rest of my life.”

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