ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – It seems like it wasn’t that long ago the Bills were huddled together in the Miami Dolphins’ visiting locker room after a New Year’s Eve regular season finale win, holding their breath, hoping the Bengals would pull off a miracle to help them break a 17-season playoff drought.
And while the drama and emotions certainly made for great videos of guys celebrating, it’s much more business like in year five under Sean McDermott.
Sure, there is still some celebrating but now it’s not a surprise or rare occurrence when this team makes the postseason, rather it’s expected. In fact it’s crazy to think that scene in Miami really was only four years ago yet there are now players on this team that don’t know what it’s like not to make the playoffs.
That’s because it’s the standard, the norm and expected to get in the big dance. But with that comes some teaching on McDermott’s part making sure, even though it’s expected guys don’t become complacent or take it for granted.
“As you get further and further out from 2017, that 2016-2017 transition, not a lot of the players that are with us now especially these younger players, years one through three in particular know what it…they think it’s the same every year and this just happens,” McDermott said on a zoom call with reporters before practice on Wednesday.
“So the critical piece of that for us going forward is that we make sure those guys don’t take it for granted, we make sure those guys know because they’ll eventually become the leaders that then educate and influence the younger guys that come in as we go down the road here.”
Josh Allen said the Bills even changed the signage around the team facility from the usual mantra of “playoff caliber” to “championship caliber”.
This is now the fourth time in five years the Bills have made the postseason after clinching a playoff berth with a win over the Falcons last week and a Ravens loss to the Rams. Now they have a chance to win the AFC East for the second straight season, something that hasn’t been done since the team won four straight division titles from 1988 to 1991. They can also clinch it for the first time at home since 1995.
Which also makes it that much more impressive that, after almost two decades of losing, this is where guys come to win. Just look at Jordan Poyer, before he came to Buffalo he had never made the playoffs so he knows first hand what that heartache is like, something many young players on this team have never experienced.
“It’s a fine line of enjoying the moment, appreciating what you have but then also understanding it’s playoff time and end of the season January, February football the urgency’s gotta continue to go up. It’s not gonna get any easier so I think just continue to have that strong mental mindset going into this last game and going into the postseason,” Poyer said on a zoom call Wednesday following practice.
“You don’t want to take your foot off the gas just because you feel like ‘oh we made the playoffs’. It’s a totally different game obviously we’ve gotta handle business this week.”
And even McDermott recalls working with a former coach, Tommy Brasher, with the Eagles who experienced something similar.
“I coached with a coach in Philadelphia, an older coach in fact when I was younger on the staff, you know we were going through a similar run and he had never made the playoffs in his 20-plus years as a coach in the NFL and as a young guy, for me now trading places I was just struck by that. It’s not like this everywhere and we’re extremely blessed and we’ve gotta keep it going,” McDermott explained.
He even remembers that happened to former Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes who went his entire 15-year NFL career without getting close to competing for a Super Bowl. Spikes played 219 regular season games without a playoff appearance. To add salt to the wound, the Eagles, 49ers and Chargers all made the playoffs the year after he left each of those teams.
“There’s a lot of players who go through a whole career and never make the playoffs. I remember being with Takeo Spikes in Philadelphia who was a long-time Bill and I’m not sure if he ever ended up making it. And you talk about a guy that did things every day a certain way, what a resilient person he is and was, same as a player so that’s hard to do though,” McDermott said.
So why is this relevant? Glad you asked.
Because ironically the day McDermott was asked about this by a few media members (myself included), he said he was going to take a group of the younger players aside and talk to them about this very topic of not taking the playoffs for granted but keeping in perspective it is the standard and goal every year. Just because you’re used to something and up to this point, have gotten it, doesn’t mean it’s always going to happen year after year. Plenty of Bills fans and former players know that all too well.
“It’s important though that, I’ve just learned over the years you don’t assume anything, you don’t assume they know, whoever they is and then know what. So in this case it’s how hard it is to make the playoffs,” McDermott explained.
Well enough of the psychological, mental side of this all. For now.
Until then the Bills have just one more game left until the playoffs get underway as they try to not just change the signage from “playoff caliber” to “championship caliber” but actually live it.