CINCINNATI, Ohio (WROC) — The Bills had a chance to take a big step forward Sunday night. A win would have sent them right back to the top of the AFC East and back into the conversation with Kansas City as a conference favorite.

Instead, Buffalo took a step back.

I don’t think you can actually know anything about the NFL until Halloween. It took a little longer with the Bills, but we now know who they are.

They’re having trouble finding bodies on defense to compete. They don’t have enough high-level skill players on offense to be elite.

Sunday night revealed the win last Thursday over Tampa may have been more about the opponent than the offensive doing all that much improving. The Bills ripped down the field on the opening possession for a touchdown and then spent the rest of the game looking like the team that raised alarm bells before the Tampa win. Touchdowns bracketed the night, while the four punts, two turnovers and one field goal in between sunk it.

Mitch Morse said everyone took a turn making a mistake and then pointed out how quickly that can add up.

“If each guy has a play or two, that’s 22 plays,” Morse said. “That’s half the game.”

Ken Dorsey does seem to have finally answered the question about secondary receivers with the ascension of Dalton Kincaid. And yet, it hasn’t mattered much. Kincaid had 10 catches in this game. Nine of which came before the final drive and still only amounted to a measly ten points.

I’m not gonna get on Kincaid for the fumble early in the fourth quarter when the Bills still had a realistic chance. The kid was trying to make a play. So far, it’s been good for the Bills to let him. I did wonder if Kincaid might have found Josh Allen on the sideline afterward and hit him with the famous line from the ’80s drug prevention commercial. “I learned it by watching you!”

Kincaid knew he was wrong. He admitted he probably didn’t have to go airborne and he has to do a better job protecting the ball. He’s a rookie. It happens. This is why it’s hard to depend on a rookie tight end to be the savior on offense.

Beyond that, the usual suspects provided an all too usual disappearing act. Hopefully, Gabe Davis and Deonte Harty got some quality cardio in because neither caught a pass. James Cook’s 39 total yards was his second-worst performance of the year.

It’s not just about the catches and the yards. It didn’t seem like Allen was under all that much pressure. Much of the problem offensively was Allen did not have options available to deliver the ball. Eventually, Dorsey had to empty the playbook and start dialing up Allen runs to keep the offense moving.

All this was going on while the defense was going through its now weekly war of attrition. The game ended with the week one starters at both linebacker and corner on the bench. Micah Hyde also had a lengthy injury back and forth going. At this point, spit and baling wire have better resources.

It’s very no good Buffalo gave up 350 yards to Joe Burrow and there was plenty of lament in the locker room about the lack of big plays. One sack and no turnovers isn’t anywhere near close to good enough.

But at least the defense made plays. They got Cincinnati off the field on fourth down when a long drive probably ices the game. Greg Rousseau prevented a touchdown that would have absolutely sealed the win in the fourth quarter.

What the rotating cast of characters at linebacker and in the secondary need is help and they’re just not getting it.

There’s no help coming from their own defensive line which is mostly healthy. Von Miller said after the game this was the best he’s felt all year. He told coaches the same on the sideline.

All due respect to Miller–who is an absolute legend–but the best anyone has felt all year are the quarterbacks who see him coming. They don’t have to worry yet Miller could impact anything they do.

There’s no help coming from a head coach in Sean McDermott who flushed a timeout trying to chase nine yards on a challenge down 14 points with under six minutes to play. I understand the play was on the Bills sideline and it looked like a catch. Trent Sherfield even told the coaches he thought it was a catch and should be challenged. The juice was just not worth the squeeze there. Save that time out and let your offense figure out second and ten.

The Bills also didn’t get any help from the refs in this game. There was not a litany of bad calls, but the intentional grounding at the end of the first half was heinous. I won’t sit here and tell you the extra three points going to the locker room totally changes the game, but it absolutely would have helped. And that kick was well within Tyler Bass’ range. There is just not enough ‘elite’ on this team to make up any sort of shortcomings, self-inflicted or otherwise.

If you want hope, though, I can give you hope. There’s still a very reasonable path to the ten wins that should give Buffalo a playoff berth. There’s also no dominant, unbeatable team in the AFC. The Bengals did their best Sunday night to let the Buffalo hang around. Turning second at 1 at the opponent’s 23 into a punt is exquisitely self-destructive. I was also against the fourth-and-goal field goal from the two in the fourth quarter. It’s an excellent way to let a team steal a game and Buffalo nearly had the chance.

If the Bills do still find their way into the playoffs, there’s no roadblock between them and Las Vegas they theoretically (say it slow for proper heavy emphasis) can’t overcome. However, it is next to impossible to imagine Buffalo beating good teams three consecutive weeks on the road. All four of their losses this year have been on the road (even if Jacksonville was technically labeled a home game). That would be the scenario if they can’t run down Miami.

Buffalo’s only win over a good team is against the good team (Miami) that can’t beat other good teams. They have a loss to a team (Patriots) who lost at home Sunday to a team that had given up on their season.

The problems are too great to expect the Bills to find solutions that can get them to compete at a Super Bowl level, even with the fresh blood that arrived at the trade deadline. (I did think Linval Joseph had a really impressive Buffalo debut.)

The Bills made it clear what kind of team they are now and what direction they’re going this season. And that direction is definitely not forward.