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Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) reacts after being sacked by the Cincinnati Bengals during the fourth quarter, Sunday, in Orchard Park.

ORCHARD PARK — The mood at One Bills Drive matched the gloomy skies outside as players cleaned out their lockers and spoke to the media for the final time Monday.

Quintin Morris called it the most depressing day of the year. Devin Singletary said he was still sick and disappointment was at an all-time high.

Still, the Bills were searching for answers as to how they went from Super Bowl favorites to ending the season with a thud. A team that lost three games by seven points all season was thoroughly beaten and man-handled by what was thought to be an under-manned Bengals team.

Some, including Sean McDermott and Von Miller, attributed the lack of fight from falling behind 14-0 quickly. But Buffalo seemed lifeless even as Joe Burrow started the game 9 of 9 with a pair of touchdown passes.

The Bengals moved the ball almost unabated during the opening possession, matriculating 79 yards without gaining fewer than 5 on any of their six plays before Burrow exploited a coverage breakdown with a 28-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Ja’Marr Chase.

The Bills, meanwhile, sputtered immediately, going went three-and-out and gaining a grand total of 11 yards on their opening two possessions.

“I don’t even know how to feel,” Bills receiver Isaiah McKenzie said. “Because went to (Kansas City) in the AFC Championship and lost and then we lose in the second round and lose in 13 seconds. This year, we get home-field advantage like we wanted and we still lose. It’s like, when is enough going to be enough? That’s how I feel at this point.”

The question remains, though, as to why the Bills were so lethargic. They had been teetering for a couple months, but a 17-point loss to a team missing three starting offensive linemen was hard to predict for anyone.

Enduring a racist mass-shooting during the offseason and two major snowstorms that impacted travel started helped build the snowball. Then, injuries ravaged Buffalo, making communication and continuity is difficult when every member of the defense was in and out of the lineup.

The absence of Micah Hyde from a season-ending neck injury in Week 2 proved increasingly glaring as the season progressed, especially with Jordan Poyer battling a hyperextended elbow, broken ribs and a knee injury throughout the year. Meanwhile, Von Miller’s torn ACL on Thanksgiving was a back-breaker for the pass rush.

Of course, the major incident that left the Bills reeling was Damar Hamlin’s devastating injury with two weeks left in the season. Watching a teammate need oxygen and brought back to life on the field after a seemingly harmless play was irreparably jarring.

“I don't think I've ever been a part of a team that has had to deal with so much on and off the football field,” Miller said. “Whether it's injuries or natural disasters, weather — I've never been a part of a team that had to deal with so much and we handled that. We handled that as best we could and we were successful despite the elements that were presented to us throughout the season.”

While conventional thinking brought ideas that Buffalo could rally around Hamlin, especially after he awoke from sedation and asked, “Did we win?” It was furthered when he was able to verbally address the team before and after the regular-season finale six days after the injury.

When Hamlin was discharged from the hospital early in the week leading up to the AFC wild-card game against the Dolphins, more faith was added and his presence in the stadium against the Bengals seemed to point toward an emotional Bills landslide.

Yet the quicksilver emotions that Buffalo endured during that time is cumulative and hard to recover from. And coupled with all of the other obstacles placed in front of the team, it seemed as if they ran out of steam instead of hitting their stride as the season moved along.

Dion Dawkins alluded to such leading up to the game when asked about Hamlin’s return to the facility, saying, “The weight is still there, but you just don't have to pull it as strongly.”

“I think what we were trying to do was just like, ‘All right, let's fight for these next couple of games,’” guard Roger Saffold said. “Let's get this week off before the before the Super Bowl, and we'll really be able to get together, be able to calm down, take a breath. But we haven't been able to take a breath since the Damar situation and it's just been really weighing heavy on a lot of people.”

Hyde concurred with Saffold that the team “ran out of gas,” while some tried to downplay the idea in hopes of avoiding an excuse for the loss. Josh Allen said, for himself, that he wasn’t sure if emotions boiled over.

Allen did say the team was not detailed like usual. Free rushers clobbered Allen at times, while he was either inaccurate or missed an open receiver, including the one that led to Stefon Diggs’ frustration on the sidelines.

Buffalo didn’t make many plays to create some oomph early in the game, but it also didn’t play with the energy needed to make those plays.

“We’ve got to be able to go out there and execute and we didn't,” he said. “Whether it was mental error or my mistake, whether it was sliding the protection the right way or the wrong way or calling the play the right play in the huddle. Whatever it is, there's just a lot of things leading up to it that we need to be better at.”

Nick Sabato covers the Buffalo Bills for GNN Sports. He can be reached via email at nick.sabato@gnnewspaper.com or on Twitter @NickSabatoGNN.

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