Jerry Hughes admits there are times during games when he looks to Lee Smith and thinks about how far they have come.
Hughes and Smith are the lone Bills players remaining from the 17-year playoff drought that hampered the franchise for the first part of the century. While Smith left to spend four years in Oakland, Hughes was around when the Bills exercised that demon in 2017.
Perhaps that moment represented the dawn of a new era. Hughes returned a fumble for a touchdown, Josh Allen accounted for four more, and the Bills clinched their first AFC East title since 1995 with a 48-19 victory over the Denver Broncos at Empower Field on Saturday. The playoff berth is Buffalo's third in four seasons.
"It's becoming the norm and I'm loving it," Hughes said following a win over Pittsburgh last Sunday. "… The way Josh (Allen) orchestrates everything, man, it's been a lot of fun and I'm getting used to it."
The division title is the 11th in franchise history. The Bills won the AFL's Eastern Division three years straight from 1964-66, won their first AFC East crown in 1980, and then won it six times in an eight-year span from 1988-95.
The Bills entered the season with winning the AFC East as their regular-season goal, ensuring a home playoff game after opening their last two postseasons in Jacksonville and Houston, respectively.
The AFC East has been dominated for two decades by the New England Patriots, who had won 11 straight division titles and 19 since the Bills last finished atop the standings in 1995. The Patriots, now without longtime quarterback Tom Brady, were eliminated from contention for the title in Week 14.
That left only the Miami Dolphins with an outside shot at catching the Bills, and an unlikely one at that. The Bills entered the contest needing a win or Miami loss to clinch the division.
There is still seeding to sort out with two weeks remaining. The Bills, currently the third seed in the AFC, have a 35-percent chance to move up to the two seed and a 19-percent chance to fall to fourth, according to The New York Times. The model gives the Bills a two-percent chance at earning the top seed and a first-round bye.
In any event, the job is not done. Allen was clear during the week that while the division title was the first goal, it's far from the only goal.
"We set our goal to have a home playoff game and that just secures that one right to do so," he said. "… It's not the end all be all. It's a step in the right direction and we've got to continue to keep working harder."
Scroll through to see photos of all the action as the Bills take on the Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High, presented by Imagine Staffing.