The Buffalo Bills were in agreement Monday: They understand Stefon Diggs’ frustration.
The team’s No. 1 receiver was visibly upset during Sunday’s 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Highmark Stadium, with TV cameras showing him gesturing in the direction of quarterback Josh Allen on more than one occasion.
After the game, practice squad running back Duke Johnson had to bring Diggs back into the locker room after the game. A day later, teammates and head coach Sean McDermott tried not to make too much of what happened.
“I mean, Stef is a highly competitive individual, as we all know,” McDermott said. “That's part of the reason why we all love him, and he's frustrated like we all are. He was in today, and he and I spoke. I’ll leave it at that.”
Diggs finished with four catches on 10 targets for 35 yards against the Bengals. He topped 100 receiving yards just twice in the Bills’ final nine games after having done so six times in the team’s first nine games.
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“Guys are competitive. We don’t want to lose,” Allen said. “It’s not fun losing. It’s not fun losing that way. It’s all understood. At the end of the day, we’ve got to be there for each other and continue to keep pushing forward.”
Asked whether he felt like there was a disconnect at times between himself and Diggs at any point in the season, Allen didn’t exactly say no.
“I just feel like sometimes there weren’t that many opportunities,” he said. “Again, defenses can game plan and try to take away your No. 1 receiver. That’s just the fact of it. Those guys on the other side of the ball get paid, too.”
Bills receiver Isaiah McKenzie said he didn’t’ have an issue with anything Diggs said or did Sunday.
“Stef is a great person and a great leader on this team,” McKenzie said. “He works hard and what we see on Sundays is him being competitive, being the fiery player he is. He’s one of the best receivers in the league or the best receiver in the league and when he’s asking for the ball, he looks at me sometimes and says, ‘Why am I not getting the ball?' and I’m like, ‘Hey, you deserve it. You’ve put in all this work, you’ve become a star in this league and possibly one of the best receivers in this league – you deserve to get the ball and if you’re not getting the ball and you’re complaining, there’s a reason.’
"He says a lot, but he also does a lot and I feel like for him, he’s just a fiery player and I respect him for everything he does. Sometimes, he can get a little overboard, but I feel like sometimes, it’s relevant and he can do it because he deserves the ball.”
McKenzie said he talked to Diggs after the loss Sunday night, and the same questions fans and media members are asking now was the topic.
"Like, 'How?' Every year, it's the same thing. How? What do we need to do?' " McKenzie said. "I said, 'I don't know, bro.' "
McKenze said he asked Diggs what he thought the problem is and the two exchanged ideas. But they agreed the answers to those questions need to be provided by the front office and coaching staff.
"It ain't up to use at the end of the day," McKenzie said they concluded. "It's up to upstairs and what they do and who they bring in and how the coaching staff looks and things like that. ... We just go out there and play football."
Diggs took to social media to address the situation Monday evening, tweeting "Want me to be okay with losing? Nah." He followed that up with another tweet: "Want me to be okay with our level of play when it’s not up to the standard? Nah," and finally "It’s easy to criticize my reaction more than the result."
Here are four more observations from McDermott’s season-ending news conference:
1. The coach refused to say whether he’s considering any changes to his coaching staff.
“I'm not going to get into staff right now,” he said when asked specifically about the futures of defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. “Obviously, not even 24 hours past yesterday's game, so I’m just, like I said, finished with the exit interviews with the players, and we met as a team.”
Dorsey’s play calling came under fire at several points during his first season on the job.
“There's a first year for everyone,” McDermott said. “I thought Dorsey really did some good things, and there's some things that he can learn from as well. 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. So like all of us, we have to learn from the experience.”
2. McDermott offered an explanation for a couple questionable game-management decisions. The Bills were forced to use a defensive timeout with 5:23 left in the third quarter and the clock stopped ahead of a third-and-10 play by Cincinnati.
“We were in the middle of a defensive substitution, and we put six DBs on the field and tried to get a defensive lineman out, and it wasn't getting done,” he said. “So, we were in danger of getting called for 12 on the field. So, I had to burn a time out there, unfortunately.”
The coach also explained two of his decisions to punt – the first coming on fourth and 10 from the Bengals’ 41-yard line with 47 seconds left in the second quarter and the second coming on a fourth-and-2 play from the Bills’ 20-yard line with 11 seconds left in the third quarter and the Bengals leading, 24-10.
A downcast Josh Allen took responsibility for some of the Buffalo Bills’ offensive shortcomings Monday and made a clear effort to deflect blame away from offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey.
“I felt like fourth and 10 and I give them the ball there with what time was left on the clock, they've got a legitimate chance to score again,” he said. “Didn't feel good about that based on how we were playing at that point defensively. Then fourth and 2, backed up, it was still late in the third quarter, and I know with Josh Allen, never to panic. If we go for that and we don't get it, possibly the game's already over right there. And so I declare the game instead of giving Josh Allen a true chance to win the game.”
3. Jordan Phillips will need offseason shoulder surgery. The veteran defensive tackle played through a torn rotator cuff suffered in Week 13 against New England. Phillips sat out the following two games, returned for the final two games of the regular season and then sat out the playoff opener against Miami before playing 19 snaps against the Bengals. He finished with one tackle in the loss.
“I tore my rotator cuff and some other stuff and just tried to play through it,” he said Monday. “The plan was when the season’s done, get the surgery and that’s what we’ll do. I’ll be back for training camp next year.”
Phillips said doctors told him he wouldn’t make the injury any worse by playing through it.
“If it was during the regular season, I just would have been put on IR, but there’s only a few games left so we just tried to push through it,” he said. “Everybody’s playing through something.”
McDermott said he had not yet met with head athletic trainer Nate Breske, so he was unsure if any other players would need surgery in the offseason.
4. The Bills signed 13 players to reserve/future contracts. General Manager Brandon Beane got to work on building the 2023 roster Monday by signing 13 players from the team’s practice squad to a reserve/future contract. That guarantees a player a spot on a team's roster, which expands from 53 to 90 players with the start of the league's new year in March (it also prevents them from signing with another team before then). It contains all the regular rules as it pertains to minimum salaries for veterans, but does not take effect until the start of the league year, which for the 2023 season comes March 15.
Teams can begin signing players to reserve/future deals at the conclusion of the regular season. Typically, those contracts are for minimum salaries and contain little or no signing bonus. The 13 players signed Monday included:
• QB Matt Barkley
• OL Alec Anderson
• DT Eli Ankou
• DT Cortez Broughton
• DT Brandin Bryant
• TE Zach Davidson
• CB Ja’Marcus Ingram
• OL Ryan Van Demark
• WR Dezmon Patmon
• CB Kyler McMichael
• OL Greg Mancz
• DE Kingsley Jonathan
• WR KeeSean Johnson
Four players from the practice squad – defensive end Mike Love, wide receiver John Brown, running back Duke Johnson and guard Justin Murray – did not sign reserve/future deals.