Following a season in which taking the next step as a team wasn't completed, Bills players aren't wallowing in self pity. They maintain that they're still a good club capable of being playoff caliber.
"We have a very unified bunch and great chemistry in this room," said Chris Kelsay. "I feel we have a very good coaching staff and we never point the finger. We continue to work hard for each other and we love playing with each other and that can go a long way."
"We gave away just as many games as I don't know if any team has ever done," said Duke Preston. "I think being right there and having a chance to take that next step is I think what's definitely on tap for next year."
With head coach Dick Jauron retained and back in the fold players are even more convinced that they can make the postseason a reality.
"I think that makes it easier on a lot of guys knowing coach is coming back and we have the same coaching staff," said Fred Jackson. "We have the same kind of schemes to work on. Knowing that I could just go watch film and correct the things that we did this past season knowing that's what we are going to work on for next season."
At the same time the players recognize that there are improvements to be made and that the playoffs won't just happen for them. Bills defensive co-captain Donte Whitner, who guaranteed playoffs in 2008, owns up to that statement and doesn't waver from his belief in his team.
"I did make it," said Whitner of the guaranteed. "And I still feel the same way about this football team. Talking to guys around the league and different teams, a lot of guys feel like somehow, some way we find a way to lose games when we shouldn't. We have to get rid of that mentality and we have to put a string of, a long string of wins together because we know we can do it. It is just about believing and going out there and getting it done."
Mental toughness is something a few players admitted needs improvement.
"In my opinion it's confidence really," said Aaron Schobel. "When we had confidence we were playing well. When you lose one you sort of lose that feeling that you can't lose. It's the same when you're winning as when you're losing. When you're losing it's hard to overcome it because you feel like something is going to go wrong."
The players know they have to change that mindset no matter what kind of adversity is thrown their way.
"We have to go back to the drawing board and come out next year the same as we did this year and keep it going, not make excuses," said Whitner. "I am not going to make excuses about us being a young football team because we have been here for three or four years. We know how to win and it is just about playing smart and doing those things on Sunday's and coming away with wins."
Adding some key personnel pieces could also do wonders in the eyes of some players.
"I don't know when the last time we've been to the playoffs is, but obviously something is not right," said Kawika Mitchell. "So you have to make sure you get the right personnel in here and make sure that we build with the people that we have here already and try to do it again."
"I think we're getting close and with a couple of more pieces we should be in the right direction," said Schobel.
Still others point to impact plays, something a lot of players felt were too few and far between.
"There were too many times there where we didn't play our best football and other teams were able to make plays and we didn't," said Paul Posluszny. "We didn't make the big plays that we need to win games. We didn't take the victories from other teams. We played solid, but not making anything great happen. That is what you have to do, to win and to make the playoffs you have to make big plays and play solid throughout the game and when it comes down to crunch time you have to be the team to make the big play to win."
Adding key personnel, improving mental toughness, more big plays and not forgetting the tough lessons of 2008 appear to be achievable goals as the players see it. And now with their head coach back they're convinced they can make a better run at the postseason in 2009.
"This thing is ready to break, given how close we were," said Preston. "Going into next season we have high expectations already with the team that we have and the group that we've got going. I think coach Jauron and his staff and the work that we put in, I really do think it's close."
"We're going to continue to work hard and prepare hard this offseason. I think if anything we'll have phenomenal attendance in our offseason workouts and we'll have drive and use this as fuel for the fire for next season," said Kelsay. "Coach Jauron said a number of times, he believes there's a championship team somewhere in this locker room. It's just a matter of us as players to come together and make that happen."