Tremaine Edmunds showed up for a surreal and depressing post-game news conference Sunday wearing a fly alternate Dodgers cap, the interlocking "L" and "A" serving as a reminder of the Buffalo Bills' preferred destination in February, when the next Super Bowl will be held at SoFi Stadium.
But the fourth-year linebacker and his teammates already sensed they won't be able to pummel opponents like they did regularly last year on their way to a 13-3 regular-season and 2-1 playoff record that they still believe has set the stage for 2021. Their 16-point output in a season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers matched their season low from last year, when they fell, 42-16, at Tennessee.
Yet Sunday's setback may not be such a bad thing. Being humbled at home in front of a crowd of just under 70,000 could prove to be just what this team needs to kick-start what will be the longest season in NFL history — 17 games for each team and an extra wildcard entry in each conference that means only two teams get first-round byes instead of four.
Of course the 17-game schedule assumes each squad will be healthy enough during a COVID-19 pandemic with no end in sight to compete each week. But that's another issue that will have to be pushed to the side for now by what is widely believed to be the least-vaccinated team in the league.
"We've got to keep fighting," Edmunds said. "It's a long season ahead of us. We've got to take this constructive criticism, be honest with ourselves, look each other in the eye and get better. Just take this loss and we've got to learn from it.
"We're definitely going to be motivated. I mean, we've got a great group of guys in there, man — guys that I know who are going to come out to work. Like I said, we're going to take a look at the film, we're going to learn from it and I know we're going to get better. That's just the type of group we have."
At least that's what they believe. Nobody can be sure until they see how the Bills react to inevitable adversity that struck them just a little earlier than most others this year.
If there's any consolation, the Bills can point to what happened across the league on Sunday, when five underdogs won on the road for the first time in an opening week in more than 35 years, according to ESPN.
The outcome didn't change their talent level, nor their confidence.
Said wide receiver Cole Beasley: "We know we didn’t play our best. Mentally, we’ve got to be a lot better than that. We know what we have with this group. So there’s not going to be any drop in confidence. We’re still going to go out there and try to score 40 every game."
They just need to understand now that they're not going to do it very often. Heck, they only reached 40 points four times last season, when they were taking everyone by surprise with new-and-improved quarterback Josh Allen and new-and-improved wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Since they played their last game, opponents have had eight months to break down and dissect everything they did to suddenly become the highest-scoring team in the AFC.
On Sunday, only four teams scored fewer points than the Bills.
But one of them was Green Bay, which was the only team to score more points than the Bills last season — another reminder about how crazy this opening week, which concludes with the Baltimore Ravens visiting Las Vegas Monday night, has been.
That said, there are two people who bear watching: Allen and the man whose voice resonates inside his radio helmet, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
Allen's adrenaline spike that came from playing in front of a home crowd for the first time since 2019 seemingly never wore off. He misfired all day (30-for-51, 270 yards, one TD, three sacks), though some of the poor throws were the result of faulty protection from an offensive line that had no answer for the Steelers' pass rush.
Daboll's fourth-down call of a delayed, overhand lateral to Matt Breida that set up a short field and Pittsburgh's go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter was so poorly timed, designed and executed that head coach Sean McDermott may have to intervene on game days with the offense — something he was able to avoid throughout his first four seasons.
Because that kind of thing can't be allowed to happen again. Even one more time. Or the players certainly will start to tune out what is being sold by the staff.
“I’ll get into it to a certain extent here,” McDermott said of his role in the call that lost 7 yards and gave the Steelers a first down at their 48-yard line, “but I’m not going to get into it any further than I need to, really. I’m the head coach. I’m the leader of this football team. We’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to do a better job in that situation. I’ll leave it at that.”
The Bills travel to Miami next Sunday.
Palm trees. Rock stars. South Beach.
But L.A. should be the only thing on their minds from this point.