The euphoria that erupted from Buffalo and all points beyond that harbored dedicated Bills fans on New Year's Eve, 2017, was a well-deserved reward for the faithful followers of a club that for 17 years couldn't get over the hump. When an unlikely Cincinnati Bengals comeback win helped punch the Bills ticket to their first postseason in 17 seasons, the proverbial monkey was off the back of Buffalo's fans and the franchise itself.
The events of Week 17 last season put into crystal clear focus for Bills head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane just what being a part of the Buffalo Bills family is all about.
The two men certainly enjoyed the unexpected outpouring of support due to the success of the team in 2017, but as two of the chief decision makers in charting the course for the Bills, they know the work has only just begun.
"What we were looking for was to set a foundation of what type of team we want and what type of players we want," said Beane. "That's the thing I thought we did even faster than I anticipated. Sean in such a short time got these guys and his staff to jell and play at a maximum level, and they did that. That's what we have to try and build going forward."
"In a lot of areas, we're on schedule," said McDermott. "In other areas, we've got a lot of work to do. I saw flashes, at times, of this thing getting turned in the right direction, but we have to actively pursue the vision. We're not there yet, there's a whole other level."
“The great part about that partnership is we’re both highly competitive individuals that want to win and want to go about it the right way. Philosophically, we believe in building it a certain way and it’s just the right fit in terms of knowing how we want this thing built.” Bills head coach Sean McDermott
Despite the unexpected success in 2017, the Bills saw the need to make significant changes at some prominent positions. Brian Daboll was hired as the team's new offensive coordinator. Tyrod Taylor was traded. AJ McCarron was signed in free agency and Josh Allen became the highest-drafted quarterback in team history as the Bills depth chart at the game's most important position has been dramatically changed.
On defense, the defensive line saw the most meaningful investment in the form of free agents Star Lotulelei, Trent Murphy and third-round pick Harrison Phillips. The back seven reloaded, most notably with Vontae Davis, first-round pick Tremaine Edmunds and fourth-round pick Taron Johnson.
But the Bills didn't draft purely on talent. Many times, Beane and McDermott have plainly stated that they're not trying to accumulate a collection of top talent. They're trying to build a team. One that is committed to the process and willing to earn everything for which they strive.
"One of the biggest challenges around professional sports – and I'll speak to football and what I've observed – is to sustain success, because each year is different one from the next," McDermott said. "Each team is different. The decisions we make roster-wise (and) personnel-wise as we move forward will be key in trying to build off what we did this past year. That, in and of itself, is a challenge."
"It's something you're continually building because you're adding new guys, whether it's free agency, draft," said Kyle Williams. "You're trying to take your core group of guys, that have been here, that have been around it, or kind of immersed in it, and they're trying to teach it and bring other guys along.
"So, we're kind of early in that. I think the type of guys we've drafted and have been bringing in kind of reflect that. Tough guys, hardworking guys, guys that are eager and willing to learn. So, we're going to continue to try and build this team."
“Hopefully fans understand and believe in what we’re doing here as a group, from Terry and Kim (Pegula) to Sean and me and everybody else that we have it moving in the right direction, but we have not arrived by any means.” Bills general manager Brandon Beane
As challenging as it may be to reset the standard every year it's a task the Beane-McDermott tandem embraces every day.
"It is an obsession. At least to me it is," McDermott said. "My brain is always going and I'm sure Brandon's is as well. Because of the conversations we have we'll call each other even after we've left the office. I'll get a call when I'm putting the kids down to sleep, and it's Brandon calling. Or I'll call him at whatever time and say, 'Hey what do you think about this?'
"The great part about that partnership is we're both highly competitive individuals that want to win and want to go about it the right way. Philosophically, we believe in building it a certain way and it's just the right fit in terms of knowing how we want this thing built."
As encouraging as the 2018 campaign might have been, neither Beane nor McDermott have been fooled by last season's historic playoff berth. There's a lot of mountain left to climb as they see it.
"We're trying to win every day. We truly are," said Beane. "It takes time to build this. Some of these guys that we drafted will get things quicker and some won't. As a whole I like where we're at. It's a new year.
"Hopefully fans understand and believe in what we're doing here as a group, from Terry and Kim (Pegula) to Sean and me and everybody else that we have it moving in the right direction, but we have not arrived by any means."
"Right now, it's about these guys competing and competing at a high level with one another. It's not about other teams; it's about us getting better and building every day," McDermott said of his team. "We have to turn the page from what happened last year and understand that this is a new team. It's a new year, new personalities, and so we've got our work cut out for us.
"This is a process as you've heard me say before. We started just over a year ago, and you saw us build a team. We're back in the market of building the team again. So, we have to go back and re-establish who we are and what we're about and how we want to win games. That's part of building a team every year and building a culture that's a winning culture."