In the leadup to what promised to be an NFL season like no other, the Buffalo Bills conducted Zoom calls almost daily.
The objective from head coach Sean McDermott, according to wide receiver Stefon Diggs, was to prepare for the unexpected.
"Kind of like mentally preparing for the season and what could be thrown at us and how we're going to handle it," Diggs said. "His mantra has been the same as far as taking it one day at a time, controlling what we can control. He's going to do his best to keep us safe and all we can do is do the same."
The preparation, consistency, and culture of trust that has been cultivated by McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane has served the Bills well as they navigate a peculiar situation entering Week 5. Their scheduled opponent, the Tennessee Titans, have yet to return to their facility after postponing their Week 4 contest against Pittsburgh due to an influx of COVID-19 cases. They added another player to the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday in wide receiver Corey Davis.
The situation is compounded by the fact that Buffalo's last opponent, Las Vegas, placed defensive tackle Maurice Hurst on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday. The team's Week 6 opponent, Kansas City, played New England days before cornerback Stephon Gilmore reportedly tested positive.
With the status of their game against the Titans up in the air, members of the Bills have repeatedly voiced confidence in their head coach and echoed his approach.
"I trust our staff and trust what Coach McDermott and the league tell us to do," quarterback Josh Allen said Wednesday. "… It is what it is. We're controlling what we can control here. We're planning on playing and taking it one day at a time. We're not writing anything off yet. We really don't know what's going to happen. But the best thing that we can do is prepare like we're playing a game on Sunday."
McDermott has received national attention based on the team's on-the-field performance alone. ESPN.com's Bill Barnwell ranked McDermott among his top candidates for NFL Coach of the Year through the season's first four weeks, citing his ability to make his players improve.
Good Morning Football's Nate Burleson echoed that sentiment earlier this week when he cited McDermott as his early frontrunner for Coach of the Year.
"They do what they do," Burleson said Monday. "The Bills made a move for Stefon Diggs and it works now, but how many of us we're like, 'Is this really gonna work?' They signed Josh Norman. How many of us we're like, 'Is he really gonna ball out?' You see what he did yesterday?
"And how about just drafting Josh Allen? We were like, 'Who? What? Where is he from?' Everything is working and these guys believe."
Scroll through to see the best photos from Buffalo's practice as they prepare for Week 5 of the 2020 NFL season.
McDermott's culture of trust, now four years in the making, has been equally vital to Buffalo's 4-0 start. Allen referenced how McDermott and Beane handled a situation back in August, when issues with a New Jersey lab resulted in four false positives on the Bills. The team's leadership delayed practice that day until they could collect all available information, a situation McDermott hoped built trust within the locker room.
Around that same time, when teams throughout sports staged protests in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, it was McDermott who called a team meeting to allow players to voice their opinions and discuss their collective response.
"The other piece of it that's critical to me is that our players know we care about them and support them and are sensitive to the things that they've been around, seen in some ways as well," McDermott said then. "I think it's important that they know that they're being heard and they have a voice and that we support them."
McDermott's first priority continued to be the well-being of his players as he discussed the Tennessee situation on Wednesday.
"There is obviously the human side to this and making sure that everybody is healthy and that is our – as we focus on us here at the Buffalo Bills, in our building – that has always been our number one goal, is the safety and well-being of our employees and our staff and our players," he said.
"That said, because of the nature of where things are coming from in terms of our opponent in Tennessee this week with their situation, it's important that we focus on the pieces that we can control. That, for us, is A) making sure that we're doing things right here with the protocols and that, B) we have a good week of practice leading up to the game."
McDermott said the Bills have aimed to minimize the risks of contracting COVID-19 by following team and NFL protocols, an evolving situation that requires constant learning as situations develop around the league. Diggs said the structure that starts at the top has trickled down throughout the locker room.
"I think Sean said it before the season even started – having that understanding mentally that it's going to be different than any other season we've been a part of and that we're going to have to overcome," safety Jordan Poyer said.
"There's going to be times where we might come into the building and the whole schedule might be changed. We're just going to have to learn how to adapt. I think that's what our team's done a good job of. I think we're a mentally strong team to be able to handle all the obstacles.