The 2017 season for the Bills will be forever remembered as the year when the club's playoff drought was ended. And though that will be the headline for generations of Bills fans, there is one thing that has been unquestionably changed for the better under head coach Sean McDermott with this team.
Their mental toughness.
It wasn't long ago that this team was literally laughed at on the field by opposing teams in the latter stages of the fourth quarter of another lopsided loss. They weren't taken seriously by many perennial playoff contenders. The team isn't too far removed from not having the intestinal fortitude to look adversity square in the face and keep grinding play after play.
Under head coach Sean McDermott, that is perhaps the most important quality that this team now possesses going forward.
"It's definitely what I expected and more," said Mike Tolbert. "I've known coach McDermott for some time, but he brought a certain bravado to the locker room and the team and the organization that hasn't been around in a while. This year was a step in the right direction for the future."
As McDermott said himself after the loss to Jacksonville in the Wild Card round, there are lessons to be learned from this past regular season and Sunday's playoff game. Lessons that the players in Buffalo's locker room were already reviewing.
"I think one thing that we need to learn from this season and this playoff game is how to win on the road," said Lorenzo Alexander. "We did a great job at home this year where we were 6-2, but on the road we were 3-6. That's ultimately the difference. You win some more of those road games, maybe you win your division or you get a home playoff game, and it's a different situation. And if we learn how to win on the road, you can come in to Jacksonville and find a way to win versus losing."
Make no mistake there are deficiencies and flaws on this football team, and there will be some difficult decisions ahead for GM Brandon Beane and McDermott this offseason to raise the level of performance on the field.
It should also be noted that mental toughness alone doesn't win football games. A team needs talent, depth and consistent execution too. But mental toughness will never be blamed in a loss. It's what kept Buffalo in a one-score game for all 60 minutes this past Sunday.
It's what kept a player like Kelvin Benjamin playing with a torn meniscus for half the season.
"I was trying to make that push," he said. "If I had to go all the way to the Super Bowl, I would do it. It's the grit. We're out there playing for each other. You have to play hurt and just push through it."
The willingness to grind on each and every play no matter which side of the ball was on the field, what the score was on the board or how much time was left in the game is where the Bills are the most different than in years past. And they've got their head coach to thank for instilling it in them.
"We've come a long way in a short amount of time," McDermott said. "That said, we're not where we need to be, that's obvious. We still want to be playing; we're not playing next week. So, we learn lessons from (Sunday). We learn lessons from all season long that we must use to help us to continue to improve.
"I know Brandon (Beane) and I will sit down and talk about things as we move forward, making sure that we continue to grow and build on what we did this year. It's never easy, but we'll stay on it, and continue to pursue our goals for the organization."
The most impressive part of what McDermott has instilled in his team is the fact that mental toughness had been the most challenging element needed to build a successful team for all his predecessors.
Veteran Mike Tolbert probably knows McDermott better than anyone else in the Bills locker room. Sunday may have been an end to season one under the Bills coach, but Tolbert envisions it as just the beginning knowing the most difficult groundwork has been laid.
"With that guy at the helm there aren't going to be many years where the Bills aren't in the playoffs," he said.