Dion Dawkins still had not quite processed the gravity of the Bills' position by the time he sat down with the media late Saturday night.
The Bills etched another chapter into their remarkable story with a 17-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, advancing to the AFC Championship for the first time since 1994. Of course, they knew that. Dawkins described a celebratory postgame scene inside the locker room.
But the full weight of it all – the thought of where they've been and where they are, one win away from the Super Bowl? That still had not settled in.
"It's a special time to be a Buffalo Bill," Dawkins said.
Dawkins was among the first players brought in when Sean McDermott came to Buffalo in 2017 and asked everyone to trust the process. A phrase that might have felt vague to Bills fans then has since taken shape, distinguishable by the consistency with which these Bills carry themselves on and off the field, week in and week out.
The process had its fingerprints all over the field Saturday. Consider the Bills defense, which had to answer questions about its ability to stop the run as players navigated the chemistry-building complications of COVID-19 during the early part of the season. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier never waivered in his message, instead asking players to stay the course and trust that they would be playing their best football come December.
Sure enough, the defense turned a corner. After falling to Arizona on a Hail Mary pass in Week 10, the Bills have held opponents to less than 30 points in each of their eight straight victories. They have given up less than 20 points in five of those games. When players heard national pundits doubt their ability to slow the Ravens' top-ranked rushing offense, they took it personally.
"We took it as a challenge," Jerry Hughes said. "A lot of us, because we had this late-night game, we sat around, we watched TV. We enjoy football. It's our job, it's our passion. So, when we see the guys on TV talking about how they don't play defense in Buffalo or we're going to give up 30 points. Yeah, that's a challenge that we all see."
The wide breadth of heroes who played roles in limiting dynamic Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to his lowest rushing total since Week 5 was another testament to the process's fruits.
There was Jerry Hughes, the longest-tenured Bill, who led Buffalo's aggressive attack with a team-high seven pressures. Veteran end Trent Murphy remained committed while being left inactive for five straight games and came up with a crucial open-field tackle of Jackson for a loss of yards. Isaiah McKenzie did not see a single target against the Colts in the wild-card round, yet he went to work throughout the week as the scout-team quarterback to give the defense an idea of the unique threat Jackson could present with his legs.
Of course, there was also nickelback Taron Johnson, who played all 16 games during the regular season after dealing with injuries during the first two years of his career. Johnson credited the fundamentals instilled at One Bills Drive with fueling his game-changing pick six, which quarterback Josh Allen described as a potentially franchise-altering play.
"They always tell us, 'Look at the vision of the quarterback, he's going to take you to where the ball is,'" Johnson said. "Especially in zone. When we're in zone, that's something that we practice every single day."
Johnson's mad dash to the end zone involved three other players who, like Dawkins, have been a part of the journey since McDermott's arrival in 2017. Jordan Poyer trailed Johnson to ensure that none of the Ravens skill players would play catchup. Tre'Davious White issued the block against Jackson that sealed the trip to the end zone. Micah Hyde jumped on Johnson's back as the celebration began.
The Bills will again be watching football Sunday, this time to find out their opponent for the AFC Championship. A Cleveland victory would set up another playoff game in Orchard Park. Otherwise, it's off to Kansas City to face the top-seeded Chiefs.
"Home or away, it's a blessing to be a part of," Poyer said.
In the meantime, the process continues.
"We came here with a vision," McDermott said. "Seeing it move forward, I guess, is the best way to say it. We're not there yet, but moving forward in the right direction is good to see and feels good."
Scroll through to see the fans that cheered on the Bills as the team beat the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional playoffs.