HOUSTON — You have to start with how it happened, in the "billsiest" of fashion.
One minute, the Buffalo Bills were holding a 16-0 lead late in the third quarter of their wild-card playoff game Saturday against the Houston Texans.
The next, they were watching their season come to a sudden and bitter end with a 22-19 overtime loss at NRG Stadium.
This one will sting for a long time, just as so many other outcomes in Bills history. Wide Right. The Music City Miracle.
Once again, the Bills found themselves with a seeming victory in hand, with a chance to continue their most promising season in recent memory. And then ... poof! It was gone.
"It's a bitter taste," quarterback Josh Allen said. "You don't want to lose that way. You don't want to lose any way. But hats off to the Texans. They kept battling, stayed in there, made one more play than we did.
"That's what it came down to. And take this into the offseason, use it, let it fuel me, and continue there."
There will be lingering regret over blowing a lead that resulted in overtime, which the Bills forced with Stephen Hauschka's fourth field goal of the day with five seconds left.
There will be lingering frustration over not putting the game away after forcing the Texans to punt in overtime.
There will be lingering fury over mistakes by the officials, the most egregious of which was not penalizing the Texans for allowing the play clock to expire on third-and-18 when Deshaun Watson shook free from pressure and connected with running back Taiwan Jones for a 34-yard gain that set up Ka'imi Fairbairn's winning 28-yard field goal with 3:20 left in the extra period.
Eventually, there will be time to appreciate the team's first 10-win season since 1999, even if the Bills remain without a playoff victory since 1995. And there will be evaluation as they head into the offseason with significant salary cap space, extra draft picks and decisions to make.
Next year's Bills will be different, because every team undergoes changes from one year to the next.
"To lose with this group of men is what makes it so hard," tight end Lee Smith said. "From the Pegulas to (General Manager) Brandon (Beane) to (Coach) Sean (McDermott), these teammates I have. Everybody always talks about how great the locker room is and all this and that, but it's not fluff with this group of men.
"It's truly a very, very special group of human beings that came together. Nine new starters on offense and seven months later, here, after we started in April, I'm about to walk across this field here (to the bus) — it's probably the (worst) I've ever felt as a football player."
McDermott knew that, which was why he made no attempt at trying to deliver soothing words to his players after the game.
"There's nothing that I was going to take the pain away," McDermott told reporters. "We've worked really hard. We've worked all offseason, all season long. The guys gave it everything they had, and they will never stop fighting.
"The Buffalo Bills will never stop fighting."
They will, however, be hurting. No one, perhaps, more than Allen.
At the time when he needed to rise to the occasion and carry the Bills to victory, he came up short. He failed to deliver a touchdown pass, though he did catch one on a flea-flicker. He also fumbled twice, losing one.
McDermott thought his quarterback was "trying to do too much," a likely result of the fact Allen was playing in the first postseason game of his young career.
"Trying to do too much and getting a little bit maybe just extreme with what he felt like needed at the time," McDermott said. "But overall, we just didn't make enough plays."
Allen was clearly outplayed by Watson, who managed to overcome being sacked seven times and constantly pressured to lead the Texans on a 22-point explosion beginning late in the third quarter.
Watson threw for a TD and ran for one, and he also made the play of the game in overtime, tainted as it might have been by poor officiating.
The bottom line with the Bills is that they didn't generate enough offense against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. It's difficult to win when most of your points are field goals.
"We have to find ways to get six instead of three when we get down there," said Allen, who completed 24 of 46 passes for 264 yards and finished with a passer rating of 69.5. "That’s on the quarterback’s shoulders, and I have to learn from that and use that and take that. ... Hindsight is 20/20, but there's some things we should have hit on. I put that on my shoulders, especially with how well our defense played.
"Teams go how their quarterbacks usually go, and I've got to be better for this team."
McDermott echoed those sentiments.
"We had opportunities to go up 20 or so or whatever there, and we didn't come away with touchdowns," the coach said. "And so that let them hang around a little bit, and then they made some plays in the second half."
"All of us are blaming ourselves," Smith said. "All of us felt we let each other down. It's a really bad feeling, man; it really is. And it's because I love these guys so much. I'm not going to bawl my eyes out and let tears fall down my face. I've got a beautiful wife and healthy kids, but this is one that will sting most likely for the rest of my life. I won't forget this one."