Team president Russ Brandon called it an anvil. The 17-year playoff hiatus for the Bills was a tangible, palpable thing that hung over the team, its fan base and the city. New head coach Sean McDermott, hired almost a year ago said he had a vision for this team, and a plan to make that vision a reality. But no one on the outside expected the vision to come to fruition in year one.
Amidst the Sunday evening celebration once the Bills had qualified for the postseason and ended their playoff absence, the kudos from players flowed about their head coach.
"You know he did an unbelievable job," said Eric Wood. "A lot has been made of how he tried to mold this team and how he tried to bring us together. To go from tanking talk to breaking the drought feels pretty dang good."
"First and foremost, he's our leader," Jordan Poyer told Buffalobills.com. "He's a great coach. He's one of the best coaches I've ever been around. Very smart, defensive-minded guy. You put that together with the morals of our team. Family, sticking together, playing together, playing for each other."
Since 2001 six head coaches were hired by the Bills franchise prior to McDermott being named to the post. A couple came close, but none could push the Bills over the playoff hump.
McDermott knew he wasn't part of the prior 17 years in which the playoffs were not in the cards for the Bills, but he embraced the cause and didn't flinch in facing it head on.
The mantra was 'Playoff Caliber' and the vision to accomplish that was 'Respect the Process.' But it was built with an approach that focused on creating a family type atmosphere in the locker room.
"I think it was his whole delivery and his whole demeanor," said Jerry Hughes. "The way he sets up a team meeting every morning. Our focus is really on family. He allowed everyone to really grow closer with one another. I found out things about my locker mates that I didn't know before. We made it more than just football. That really hit home for us.
"It allows you to go out and sacrifice everything. You can sacrifice something for the guy next to you because you know he's going to do the same. Coach really instilled that in us."
But more than anything else it was McDermott's unyielding will to succeed that helped to push his players to strive to do the same.
"It was his determination as well as his message," said Hughes. "Just how he was able to come in during the offseason and breaking everything down and making sure everyone was on the same page. Understanding how we need to communicate not only as a team, but as a unit especially on the defensive side.
"Everything is different. Just the way he prepares us throughout the week. Just the message and trusting what he's instilling in us and what he's trying to start here. Everyone had written us off and told us we were tanking and couldn't be the team we are today. He told us that's just outside noise. I feel like we all believe in him and it's a great feeling for everybody to buy in and believe in our coach."
And that belief in their coach carried through to a belief in themselves as a team, even when things took a bad turn midseason.
"He made sure that guys stayed together and stayed focused and continued to trust that process," said Lorenzo Alexander. "Obviously through the season there have been a lot of ebbs and flows. You think about that three-game losing streak and I've been on teams that could've easily fell apart. Keeping guys together along with the players leadership and not really dwelling in the negativity that players and organizations can fall victim to. That was key for us."
Players admitted in that jubilant locker room Sunday night, that even during the low points of the season their belief persisted.
"There's not a player in this locker room who stopped believing—we believed in each other," said Hyde. "I came out in April and we had one common goal and we did it." "I believed we could make the playoffs. When I came in here, that's what I expected," said Poyer. "Coach preaches playoff caliber all the time. All year we've fought adversity, through things that didn't go right. So just the whole mindset that he's brought to this organization has been great. It's been nothing but a great, great coach for us. We're here now and we have a chance to make a run."