As signage around the building at One Bills Drive is changed from 'Playoff Caliber' to 'Championship Caliber' ahead of the first round of playoffs, it's easy to see this year is different for the Buffalo Bills. Players who have been with the team for multiple seasons can point to several reasons for this change. The biggest reason being the culture shift under general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott.
"It's been fun to be around the guys that we have in this locker room," Josh Allen said. "How hard they work, how much they love each other, how much this team loves each other. You know it's a special feeling."
Several players believe a part of this season's success is due to an increase in work ethic and the attitude behind it. Jordan Poyer calls this year's group a bunch of film nerds because of the extra time his teammates are putting in on their own. It's not just extra film either, it's doing whatever it takes to perfect your craft. McDermott noticed this amongst his team in the beginning of the season.
"They're going to do their own work to get themselves ready to go," McDermott said. "I even said at lunch, it was last week, you hear the players talking about, 'hey did you see this play against this team,' and those are all good conversations when guys are talking ball, talking football. Those are good conversations because you know that it matters to them and you watch the habits."
Scroll through to see the top photos of the Buffalo Bills working out during Week 17 of the 2019 regular season. Bills weight room photos are presented by Crunch Fitness.
Talking through film at lunch, coming in on off days, spending extra time dissecting film with teammates, staying late after practice to get more reps—the players understand it's all for the greater good of the team. These habits that are being formed come from the top down. It's the culture Beane and McDermott put in place the moment they arrived in Buffalo. Veteran leaders in the locker room have helped set the example, but Lorenzo Alexander said the difference this year stems from the younger players.
"I think obviously Josh [Allen] and Tremaine [Edmunds] really embody that and everybody kind of falls in line," Alexander said. "Those guys have enormous talent, but their work ethic sets them apart. That's why we are successful this year because they have expedited their expectations for being young players. So instead of playing like a second or third year guy, they're playing like fifth or sixth year veterans. That's what you really have to have for team success."
"I'm taking the responsibility of making sure I'm getting my job, my assignment done," second year mike linebacker Tremaine Edmunds explained. "I know a lot of guys out there are counting on me, so I just want to come in and show up to work prepared because other guys are going to lean towards me with questions and stuff, so just setting that good example for everybody."
Edmunds sees the value in increasing his work load in order to help the team. More work, especially at home, means sacrifices.
"I go home and I'm still watching tape throughout the evening," Jordan Poyer said. "My daughter goes to bed around 9:30 so while I'm putting her to bed, I'm watching film."
Several players make these sacrifices, watching a couple hours of film at home each night, and are seeing it pay off on the field.
"I sacrifice a lot," Tre'Davious White said. "I sacrifice being a dad sometimes, just a lot, wanting to do personal things outside of football. To be the best version of myself that I want to be on the field each and every weekend, I have to make those sacrifices. So, it's starting to pay off for me but I'm not done. I'm going to continue to do those things. And when I get off football, I can kind of relax and do something else. But while I'm still in season and still with my team, I'm going to give them everything that I have."
It's that 'going to give everything I have' mentality that is shared amongst the entire team. Players are willing to give this type of effort and time because of the relationships.
"Everything that Sean really talks about is based out of two things—the process and I think number two is people and the relationships," Alexander said. "Those things really go together. I think you're able to have a better process and get through it when you have relationships with people. Because guys really love and respect each other because we know where guys come from, know each other's families, we're meeting together, it definitely transitions to the field."
This group is dedicated to their work and making sure the person next to them feels just as prepared. It's just another example of what the foundation looks like here at One Bills Drive. It's a labor of love and a collective understanding to give it all you have knowing the result will be worth it.