ORCHARD PARK — Josh Allen still bore a scab on his left elbow. It was emblematic of a Bills offense cut and bruised in Sunday’s season-ending loss to the Bengals.
An offense so prolific at the start of the season seemed stuck in the snow against a Cincinnati defense that had all the answers for a Buffalo unit that was to a season-low 10 points. The unit finished second in the NFL in points and total yards, but never seemed whole over the last half of the year.
Allen threw for at least 300 yards four times in the first six games, but did so three times over the last 12 outings, including the playoffs. Everything that was so easy early in the year became a constant challenge.
After the first six games, the Bills offense declined by 69 yards per game, yards per play dropped by half a yard and third down efficiency also dipped from 52.8% to 48.3%. As Buffalo met with reporters for the final time Monday, it tried to offer explanations for the change.
“I thought early on in the year, we were getting the ball out a little bit quicker at times,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “And then later on the year, we were maybe working the ball down the field and maybe sometimes too much. And so, I think that's an area that we have to look hard at this offseason and evolve as an offense, really, in that regard.”
Allen said he needed to be better when Dorsey gave him opportunities to throw deep passes, going 1-12 with two interceptions on passes that traveled over 40 yards during the playoffs. McDermott acknowledged everyone needed to be better, including Allen. But health was a concern for much of the Bills’ offensive slump.
After suffering a UCL injury on the final drive against the Jets in Week 9, Allen said his elbow was “pretty bothersome,” but that it didn’t affect him much. It did impact his mechanics and how he released the ball. Both Allen and McDermott said post-season surgery didn’t seem necessary and he felt closer to normal late in the year.
“I think really two weeks ago was when I kind of felt like I got back to mechanically what I like,” Allen said. “Again, being a rotational thrower it's very kind of elbow prevalent, and maybe it got a little bit too more of a linear type deal because I just couldn't really use all that much force, and kind of flicking it out there. But again, just adapting.”
Allen was also adapting to a new receiving group, with Gabe Davis stepping into the No. 2 spot and Isaiah McKenzie taking on a more prominent role with the exits of Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders following the 2021 campaign.
Davis had some stellar moments, but was also inconsistent and had one 100-yard game during the regular season. McKenzie was plagued by drops at inopportune times while rookie Khalil Shakir showed flashes, but not enough to be a regular contributor, even after offseason acquisition Jamison Crowder was sidelined for the season with a broken ankle.
Stefon Diggs — who was endorsed by several teammates, including Allen on Monday after a sideline blow-up against the Bengals — had another big season with 1,429 yards and 11 touchdowns on 108 receptions, but had one 100-yard game over the final seven in the regular season as defenses started to make him the focal point of coverages.
“Some games I thought we did (have enough production), some games I thought maybe not enough,” McDermott said. “Stef is always going to be our main guy out there in terms of what he did this year for us and the guy that we want to get the ball to. But overall, probably more than anything, just too many dropped balls. Overall, I think those came to haunt us at times.”
First-year offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey drew the ire of many this season, and while Allen endorsed his old quarterbacks coach, he thought there was room for improvement.
“I thought he did a really good job of putting us in positions to to be successful,” Allen said. “... But again, I got to be better for him, and especially when he gives me some shot plays. I turned the ball over too many times this year. Didn't really bite us all that much, only losing three games in the regular season. But there's opportunities where it could have.”
McDermott declined to commit to Dorsey and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier returning next season, saying it was not even 24 hours after the game. He also was non-committal on whether the Bills needed to add more explosive weapons to the offense during the offseason.
“I thought Dorsey really did some good things, and there's some things that he can learn from as well,” McDermott said. “And I know this: when you're committed to a cause, and you work hard at things, and you put the team first, that you learn from experiences. And so, like all of us, we have to learn from the experience.”