Orchard Park, N.Y. (WBEN/WGR 550) - Less than 24 hours after suffering a season-ending loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs, the Buffalo Bills reflected on the defeat on Monday, as they cleaned out their lockers in Orchard Park.
While Sunday's loss to the Bengals certainly puts a damper on all the success the team did have over the course of the 2022 season, some of the players don't want to discredit everything the team accomplished.
"There were a lot of positives that we saw throughout the year, a lot of adversity that this team had been dealt. I'm still proud of our team for how we handled some of those really adverse situations," said Bills quarterback Josh Allen with the media during Monday's locker room cleanout. "They weren't all easy, and that's the NFL, man. There's gonna be 31 unhappy teams, and this is going to be the feeling every year unless you win the Super Bowl. So again, obviously we want to win our last game, and we didn't do that. So lots to learn from, lot to grow from, but we're stick together as a team and as an office and organization, and continue to try to figure things out."
"Just so many emotions all at the same time, and then just a lot of disappointment, a lot of sadness. The team will look completely different next year, there's always going to be a couple of teammates you might be closer to that might not be here. Just working all year for the same goal, and then just coming up short again is very frustrating. But then again, you learn a lot of things about yourself through times like this, and it's going to give us a lot of good things to build on and things to learn from moving forward."
A number of players that spoke on Monday felt as though the team "ran out of gas" as they made their push for a Super Bowl, given the emotional roller coaster that the team had been riding over the course of the season. This included a number of different happenings throughout the 2022 season, even dating back to before the season with the events happening in Buffalo like the Tops mass shooting on Jefferson Avenue back in May.
Often times, sports allows for people to escape from the harsh realities of life. When times get rough for some, they are able to turn to local sports like the Bills, or even the Buffalo Sabres to not only get their minds off all that's going on, but also use the team and players as a rallying point going forward.
With all the community has to faced over the last several months, and even with the way things developed with the team such as the Damar Hamlin medical emergency three weeks ago, some of the players definitely felt the community turning to the team as a rallying cry.
"Definitely everything that was happening, the way that we all rallied around each other, the community, the coaching staff here, the players, everybody kind of rallied around each other to make sure that we keep on pushing forward and keep a positive mentality of just moving forward," said Bills rookie wide receiver Khalil Shakir during his end-of-season media scrum. "It's definitely something that we went through a lot this year, but I think the way that everybody rallied together as a community is special."
"You want to give the community something to be excited for," said Bills cornerback Taron Johnson during his end-of-season media session on Monday. "They've been through a lot, the city, as a whole, has been through a lot, this team has been through a lot. So just making sure that we all can help each other. We're helping the city, and the city is helping us."
For some players in the Bills locker room, they took Sunday's loss to the Bengals personal, hoping to get a win and accomplish much more this season for the City of Buffalo.
"That's probably the biggest disappointment of the season is that you feel like you let the whole city down, and that's a lot to swallow," said Bills defensive tackle Jordan Phillips on Monday. "It's a lot on your shoulders, but that's what we signed up for. We just didn't get it done."
Meanwhile some players understand that people in Western New York and the City of Buffalo tend to cling for the success of the Bills every year. However, that was particularly the case this year given all that transpired.
"Obviously, we would have loved to pull it all together with a Super Bowl. They're gonna lean on us regardless, and 'Bills Mafia' is a tough fan base, but they also show so much love," said Bills tight end Quintin Morris. "It'll be in the future to finally be that thing [to] get that Super Bowl for them, and that's the main goal at the end of next season, or any season in general."
Bills third-year cornerback Dane Jackson has been among those on the Buffalo roster to personally experience adversity during the 2022 season. Not only is a close personal friend of Hamlin, but he, too, had a medical scare early in the season when he was taken off the field in an ambulance with a neck injury against the Tennessee Titans.
Jackson said he was able to feel the presence of the Buffalo community throughout the 2022 season.
"I feel like we all just really came together. There wasn't certain people leaning on each other, we all came together as a team, as a community," said Jackson in the locker room on Monday. "People in the Buffalo community are great people. They are willing to help out whenever they can. I mean, just the love that we showed each other, I feel like that goes a long way, for sure."
With the players knowing the City of Buffalo and Western New York were looking to the Bills as a rallying cry as the season continued, they were not afraid to admit it carried a little more responsibility on the team to go out and get the job done for the community.
"As much as Buffalo has been through, as much as everybody's been through in the community, we definitely wanted to bring a championship here. That's always been a goal, not only for the fans, but for us as well," Jackson said. "We pride ourselves on that, we put in a lot of work. So we're definitely not happy with the results, but it's back to the drawing board."
"Of course you want it, but there was just so much that happened with the city, you really wanted it this year. It only seemed fitting for all the s*** that's happened," Phillips added.
While there was the added responsibility on the group in Orchard Park to try and win a Super Bowl this season for Western New York, players knew there was still a job to do week-in and week-out.
"I think there's pressure every year. Every year, it's the same goal, it doesn't change no matter what's going on with the weather, with the players on our team. The goal doesn't really change," Morris said. "I mean, obviously, regardless of what's going on, guys want to go out there and win. Ultimately, we kind of talked about it earlier, there's only one team that's not feeling like this at the end of the year, and that's whoever wins the Super Bowl. So just doing whatever we got to do to get over that hump and make our city proud."
Aside from, maybe, the added pressure of trying to win the Super Bowl for the community in a challenging year, the players did feel the love and support from Western New Yorkers from both near-and-far.
"Just the love, the outpouring of love that everyone in this community shows on a daily basis. Even before the incidents and stuff, you go out to the store randomly or anything, you're gonna get love from someone," Jackson said. "It's just a good feeling from this Western New York community and how they embrace us."
"Just spending more time with the community, you really just see what 'Bills Mafia' is all about, and how close the city is and how close the community is," added Morris. "A guy I like to watch is Dion [Dawkins] and how he kind of pours his heart out into the community. I want to be a guy like that when I go places here, people know my face and love my presence."
"I just know there's some strong people, just really able to get through anything," Johnson said. "I love the city, and they have the Buffalo Bills' back. It's amazing to see."
As for a rookie like Shakir, this season was a great chance for him to not only get acclimated to the NFL, but also becoming a resident of the area and understanding how the people live and thrive in the region.
"I love it. I came from Boise, and kind of, like, same city vibes, to be honest in a way. With the weather, it's very similar. But I think the community here is amazing. The fans are amazing. 'Bills Mafia' is amazing," he said. "When you're just out in the community, seeing how much people really care about this place, it's not like that everywhere. So I think that's definitely a blessing.
"Something that people don't realize is what kind of drives the city is the great people within it, and it's been amazing. I've definitely learned a lot from being in New York, being in Buffalo. Learning how to deal with snow, blizzards and things like that. I didn't know there was certain windshield liquid that you could put in [your car] and make it melt. I didn't know any of that stuff, so I definitely learned a lot."