In the end, any team based primarily on the efforts of one player, no matter how great that player may be, is doomed.
The Buffalo Bills just found that out the hard way. While the Cincinnati Bengals, who beat the Bills 27-10 in the divisional round to advance to their second straight AFC Championship game, has built their team on both sides of the ball over time, Buffalo’s primary construct, with all due respect to a bunch of really good players on that roster, has been to put too much in the hands of quarterback Josh Allen, and assume that it will all work out.
The Bills team-built to a point to get to where they are, to be sure, but Allen has been in the crucible all year long, and against the Bengals, he simply ran out of gas. As big and strong and gifted as he is, and as much as he has put his own indelible stamp on the quarterback position in his five NFL campaigns, he was also trying to take the Bills to their first Super Bowl since the end of the 1993 season with an iffy-at-best offensive line, one star receiver in Stefon Diggs, and a multi-back run game that could never carry the load for any real stretch of time.
Allen is good, but he’s not that good. Nobody is. Even the greatest quarterbacks need help. Tom Brady spent a few years in the mid-2000s lost in the weeds with Deion Branch, Troy Brown, and Reche Caldwell as his primary targets. The New England Patriots got tired of it, grabbed Randy Moss and Wes Welker in the 2007 preseason, and put up one of the greatest single-season offensive performances in pro football history. Not that they won the Super Bowl in their nearly-undefeated 2007 season, but they were back in the hunt.
Right now, Allen has one gun with which to hunt. He has his Randy Moss in Diggs, some average-to-good receivers in Gabe Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, the recently re-signed Cole Beasley, and tight end Dawson Knox. an offensive line that isn’t a big help, and a three-pronged running back group in James Cook, Devin Singletary, and Nyheim Hines that doesn’t really scare anybody. The only Bills runner who strikes any fear in enemy defenses is Allen, which reinforces the overall point.
Buffalo’s wild-card win over the Miami Dolphins perfectly summarized the boom-or-bust nature of this offense. His 352 passing yards marked a career high — but so did his three turnovers and seven sacks. Buffalo pulled that win out, but it was much closer than people imagined it would be, especially after the Bills worked up a 17-0 second-quarter lead, and got out of there with a 34-31 squeaker.
Anybody who watched the Skylar Thompson-led Dolphins nearly pull off that particular upset had to have a suspicion that a Bengals team led by Joe Burrow, Burrow’s three-headed hellscape of receivers in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd, an offensive line that performed magnificently despite the absence of three starters due to injury, and the underrated efforts of running back Joe Mixon, could blow the Bills right out of their own stadium.
Which is exactly what happened. The Bengals bracketed Diggs, got after Allen over and over (one sack, but eight quarterback hits), and limited the Bills to 63 yards on 19 carries. Allen completed 25 of 42 passes for 265 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, and a lot of frustration.
Diggs’ frustration — he caught four passes on 10 targets for 35 yards in this game — was also evident.
What can the Bills do about it? Not a lot in the upcoming free agency period. Based on an estimated 2023 salary cap of $225 million (it may be more), Buffalo is more than $8 million over that number, and there aren’t a lot of obvious cuts to be made, because general manager Brandon Beane pushed contracts into the future, thinking that the window was now.
So, it’ll be up to the draft. The Bills would do well to get a legitimate running back like Texas’ Bijan Robinson or Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs. Maybe they go with the best possible option in a stacked receiver class in the later rounds, and they need at least one new offensive lineman to round it out.
It’s a lot to ask of the Bills, but the Bills have already and clearly asked too much of Josh Allen. Now, it’s time for everybody else to step up.
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