ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – When Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane came to Buffalo, they wanted to change the culture surrounding the Bills and one of the ways to do that was by bringing in players that fit the kind of culture they wanted to build.
Many guys that came from the Doug Whaley era and previous regimes were traded or let go but there are still a few players that remained. Jerry Hughes is one of them.
Hughes joined the Bills in 2013 as part of a trade with the Colts that sent linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to Indianapolis. Then in 2015 Hughes signed a five-year contract extension. When that was up, McDermott and Beane signed him to a two-year deal in May of 2019.
“Jerry is a special dude, Jerry has been here, he’s been through all of it all of the ups and all of the downs for many, many years and honestly to see him get production and continue to produce and make play after play after play as an older veteran player it’s impressive. A lot of guys can’t do what Jerry does. Jerry is an older body but a young engine,” Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins told News 4 Sports.
When guys like Kyle Williams, Lorenzo Alexander or Eric Wood were with the Bills, players always talked about winning a championship for them given where they were in their careers and how long they had played for the Bills. Now in his eighth season with Buffalo, Hughes is the longest-tenured player on this Bills roster.
“It’s pretty cool, I like the respect because I’m still not the oldest guy in the building but it’s great to have the respect. Like I tell the guys you’re not winning a playoff game for me, you’re winning for yourself because I’ve been in this business 11 years and I’ve never been in this situation so you don’t know when the next time you’re gonna be sitting in this,” Hughes said.
When Hughes was with the Colts from 2010 to 2012, they made it to the playoffs twice but lost both times in the wild card round so this year was the first time he won a game in the postseason. Ironically, the Bills beat the Colts in the wild card round in that game.
Now he’s playing in a conference championship game for the first time in his career as the Bills get ready to play the Chiefs on Sunday in the AFC title game with a chance to advance to the Super Bowl and Hughes knows these opportunities are hard to come by.
“What Jim Kelly and what Thurman and Bruce and those guys did, Andre is what we get to see and are reminded of every time we walk in this building. That takes a special group so for us and I let those guys know it you know let’s go out there and play for you, play for me, play for the guy next to you and so on because we all want the hardware,” Hughes said.
“There’s so many people in this business who have busted their asses to get in the NFL that don’t have any hardware to show for it so take advantage of this opportunity, enjoy the moment because you never know when it will come back so I think the guys are embracing that. We used to use that old mantra ‘oh we want to win it for Zo or win it for Kyle’ and believe me guys wanted to do that but now the focus has shifted, it’s a little bit more selfish.”
The Bills advanced to the AFC title game after a 17-3 win over the Ravens in the divisional round and a big reason for that was the play of the defense. Taron Johnson’s pick-6 in the third quarter sealed the win and Hughes played a huge role in holding Baltimore to just three points. He had three tackles and two sacks in an incredible defensive performance.
It’s only fitting that the longest-tenured Bills player had a huge impact in getting them to this point but Hughes says the attention isn’t on him.
“You want to win it for yourself, you want to feel that confetti fall from the sky you know you want to be able to hoist the trophy up, you want to be able to bring a banner into your office and your building and say I was a part of that team. I think guys are thinking like that, that’s why our play level has picked up in the playoffs. I think that’s why the attention to detail around the building you know is at an all time high because we understand what’s at stake to be two games away, man it’s almost like a dream come true.”