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'Striving for the ultimate goal' | Top 5 things to know from Bills HC Sean McDermott's 2023 end of season press conference


Sean McDermott has finished up his seventh season as Buffalo's head coach. McDermott has earned playoff berths in five straight years and six out of his seven total seasons since coming to Buffalo in 2017. The HC has also led the Bills to five consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins.

McDermott met with media on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the 2023 season, including reflecting on defensive coordinator duties, player performances, things that impressed him from this year and what he wants to see going forward.

Here are five things to know from McDermott's end of the season press conference.

1. Disappointed but not broken – McDermott reflects on Year 7

The Bills ended their 2023 season at home after suffering a three-point loss to the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. In order to even get to the postseason, Buffalo ran the table and won their final five games of the regular season. Because of that, Buffalo earned its fourth consecutive AFC East title and a No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

"Good season overall, obviously not the result, the ultimate goal that we were looking to accomplish," McDermott said. "When you can have the success that we've had through six out of seven years in the playoffs, I think is significant and hard to do, as well as four AFC East titles and now five-plus years of 10 plus wins is impressive and did not come easy. So, I applaud the organization, all involved, the team, the players and coaching staff. And we look forward to continuing to reach and strive for that ultimate goal of winning a world championship."

McDermott also reflected on the first time the Bills and Chiefs matched up in the playoffs since becoming Buffalo's head coach. Buffalo lost that AFC Championship game 38-24 during the 2020 season. Since that loss, the HC thinks the Bills have improved in several ways and have come a lot closer to beating Kansas City.

McDermott felt that the team had opportunities to beat the Chiefs on Sunday but in the same vein, knew there were things that didn't go their way. Knowing how close Buffalo came to advancing to the AFC Championship game and knowing how much talent remains on the roster, the HC doesn't think there needs to be a complete overhaul to get over the hump.

"This is not a situation where you strip it down to the studs and you start all over," McDermott said. "I mean, we've done a lot of good things and the players have done a lot of good things. I think you really start with understanding the success that we've had and how we've gotten it. And then you make tweaks along the way to try and get ourselves to become world champions.

"And that's why we came here, we came here to win and win is what we've done, quite honestly. We have not reached that ultimate goal, however, in terms of why we came here, and we will work tirelessly to do that."

McDermott believes it all starts with a winning mindset and he saw that in his team when they won five straight games to win the AFC East.

"That's what you saw from our team, when we sat at 6-6," McDermott said. "We were able to rally and get to where we got to this year, it was that winner's mindset, and that's what I want everybody to have. And that's what I want for everyone to feel -- what it does feel like to get to a Super Bowl again and win it. And that's the ultimate goal that I have, that's the ultimate goal of our organization, Terry and Kim, and I'm extremely proud of what we've accomplished, but not in any way satisfied or going to get complacent with where we're at.

"Every year you start over and every year that fire, I can tell you and promise you, that fire burns within me as bright as it did the year before, if not more. We're disappointed, yes, but not broken."

2. McDermott shares thoughts on the DC/OC conversation

The Bills approach this offseason with questions surrounding both coordinator positions—will Sean McDermott continue to call the defense? And, will Joe Brady return as the offensive play caller?

McDermott took over play-calling duties after former defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier decided to step away from coaching for the 2023 season. It was the HC's third time calling plays (Eagles DC 2009-10, Panthers DC 2011-16) and first time doing so in Buffalo.

McDermott led a defense that finished allowing the fourth-least points per game (18.3), ninth in total yards per game allowed (307.2), had the third-most takeaways (30), fourth in sacks (54) and tied for second-least in passing touchdowns allowed (18).

Buffalo's HC thinks this year's defensive staff was the best he's had yet.

"The results were the results in part because of what they did, how they coached and how they handled themselves," McDermott said of the help he received from his staff. "I'm extremely grateful for that as it relates to my position. I felt like overall it was knocking some rust off early, maybe just getting back into the seat of doing it again, but I felt very comfortable back in that position. Certainly, more work on one's plate when you do that, when you take on a dual role like that and that will be evaluated as I go forward here and we go forward."

Brady took over as the interim offensive coordinator after the Bills moved on from Ken Dorsey following their Week 10 loss to the Broncos. The opportunity marked Brady's second time calling the plays for an NFL offense.

The interim OC helped lead the offense for the final nine games of season, which included two home playoff games. The Bills owned a 7-2 record with Brady as their play caller.

"I thought Joe did a really nice job coming in and building great communication, collaboration, a vibe with Josh (Allen)," McDermott said. "And then I think you saw the results of that through the course and so I thought he did a very nice job in that regard."

When Brady took over from Weeks 11 all the way to the Divisional Round, Buffalo ranked sixth-best in points per game average (27) and total yards per game (380.7), rushed for the fourth most yards per game (149.6) and had the third best third down conversion rate (50.5%).

Quarterback Josh Allen told media on Monday that he would “fully embrace” having Brady back as his OC in 2024. McDermott said Allen's opinion matters.

"It's big," McDermott said. "You got to have the buy-in from your franchise quarterback or any quarterback for that matter. And certainly, at the end of the day, it'll be my decision. But, I respect Josh's opinion, I respect his position on it and it does factor into the overall equation."

In terms of making decisions on defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator for next season, McDermott said there are a lot of moving pieces.

"With the way the rules are now with the coaching and who can go and who can't, it's almost like free agency, so there's a lot of moving pieces," McDermott shared. "And it happens fast, but right now I'm not going to get into staff moves and adjustments."

3. McDermott's offensive philosophy and why he's proud of Josh Allen's 6th year

During Tuesday's press conference, McDermott was asked of his big-picture view on Buffalo's offense and how he thinks it should flow. The HC shared that he views a successful offense as pass first knowing what type of quarterback he has in the building.

"I am a defensive coach, but I'm going to say this, and we just lost to Andy (Reid), but I cut my teeth around Andy Reid who [is] a pass-first, you throw to win [coach]," McDermott shared. "And that has been my philosophy since pretty much day one here. Especially since Josh has grown into a player and the quarterback that he has, really starting in '19 after Josh's first season."

While McDermott knows the offense runs through Allen who has a rocket arm that few can compete with, he also understands the importance of what a run game can do to help his QB succeed.

"I do believe though that you've got to be able to control the line of scrimmage and run when you need to run," McDermott said. "And I like the way that we've been able to blend that in particular this season. Coach Kromer and Coach Brady have done a really nice job along with the offensive line and the pieces that Brandon (Beane) brought in. I thought this was our best year in that regard. I think it helps a quarterback, quite honestly, being able to do both, being two dimensional and you saw that the other night (against Kansas City)."

Buffalo's HC said it's also important to be able to know how to run the football when the weather isn't ideal for throwing conditions and when the defense is able to make you one dimensional.

Knowing the Bills finished as a top 10 rushing offense, McDermott feels very impressed with what his offensive line was able to do in 2023.

"This was probably our best season, and it starts with having good players up front that are healthy throughout the entirety of the season," McDermott said. "So, give credit to our medical staff for that, to those players, their chemistry. They did a great job. And then, the ability to teach during the week of, 'Hey, this run, we're not just gonna run it over here, but the run is designed to go exactly to this specific point.' And then, everyone being on that alignment, everyone being on the same page, the backs, the tight ends, the receivers and that understanding is what you saw from an execution point on Sundays."

LT Dion Dawkins, LG Connor McGovern, C Mitch Morse, RG O'Cyrus Torrence and RT Spencer Brown each started and played together in every single game this season.

Josh Allen finished his sixth season leading the NFL in total touchdowns (44), offensive yards (4,830), red zone touchdowns (35) and tied for the most rushing touchdowns (15) by a quarterback in a single season in NFL history.

He quarterbacked an offense that averaged the sixth most points per game (26.53), averaged the fourth most total yards per game (374.5), was the best on third downs (49.8%) and scored touchdowns in the red zone at the sixth best rate (63.1%).

McDermott is very proud of how his QB led his team this season.

"You saw him willing this team to win," McDermott said. "Miami game in particular, this past game (Kansas City) in particular. That's what he's gonna do. But I also think he is maturing enough to the point of hey, I understand how to play the position and I understand how to play the position as it relates to my ability to move and be mobile.

"But I also understand I've got to be healthy enough, as we just discussed down the stretch, so I can do that. And lower my shoulder when I need it. The Miami third down and whatever-it-was conversion – great example of that. Like, if you're not healthy enough to do that then, maybe we don't convert that, maybe we don't win. So, it's all a piece of it. And I think again, his understanding of that, we're getting closer and closer to that he gets it and so I'm proud of him for that."

4. Perspective on offensive playmakers in 2023

Sean McDermott gave his perspective on a few key players for the Bills in the 2023 season.

Stefon Diggs:

In his fourth year in Buffalo and ninth in the NFL, Diggs finished with over 1,000 receiving yards for the sixth time. The Bills receiver started the season with over 100 receiving yards in five of his first six games, but failed to get back over the 100-yard mark since doing so in Week 6.

"Sometimes defenses evolve, sometimes there are more things on tape through the course of the season and people copy them, what's on tape," McDermott said on the Bills receiver's dip in production. "Listen, Stef is a great player. I love Stef. He was a phenomenal teammate. I like how the offense found some rhythm, though, under Joe (Brady) and Stef got back involved at times, especially down the stretch."

Diggs will remain a valuable part of the Buffalo offense as one of the top receivers in the NFL.

James Cook:

Cook took a serious leap from his rookie year to this season, taking over as the Bills lead running back and accounting for 1,667 total yards and six total touchdowns.

"You talk about the development of players, right — that is coaches' responsibilities and players' responsibilities as well," McDermott said. "And I think James, where you look at where he was in year one, to where he was in year two, difference, right? And to come in and say, here's a young man that maybe wasn't the primary back at Georgia but became the primary back this season in his second year in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills, I thought that was very impressive."

Tyler Bass:

Tyler Bass went 24-for-29 on field goal attempts this season and missed one of his 50 extra point attempts. He missed what would have been a game-tying field goal Sunday night with under two minutes remaining.

"I am confident in Tyler and I'll start there and I'll end there, but in between those two is to me yes, there were some kicks we need to make, no doubt about it. He knows that and there's no one that works harder at it than he does and takes more pride in the work that he puts in and his job to perform at the highest levels that he can for the team and his teammates," McDermott said. "I'm very confident that he's gonna do what's necessary this offseason to get himself right."

5. Looking forward to 2024

With plenty of questions in the offseason, McDermott is preparing to look ahead to the Bills' 2024 campaign. The Bills head coach was clear that, just because the Bills made it deep into the postseason this season does not mean the path back to the playoffs will be an easy one.

"Every year you've got to start over, every year you have to evaluate your roster," McDermott said. "We're in the process of just starting that this morning. Every year is a challenge, right, to figure out how to put it back together again to get yourself in a position to win. That's why there's no guarantees when you start a season that it's going to be, well you just pick up where you left off. It's not how this league works."

McDermott pinned ball security as a contributing factor to the Bills' early season struggles.

"Number one is taking care of the football, right?" McDermott said. "You turn the ball over, it's hard to win games. I would say closing out games. I think those two things combined, were some of the, 'hey, we're a play away in some of those six losses earlier in the year.' … We've got to start game one next season with that understanding and that awareness."

A lack of explosive plays also contributed to the offense's struggles at times this season.

"You want to be efficient, you want to be explosive. It's hard to be both," McDermott said. "And that being said, however, you need to create explosive plays in order — if you look at and study the game, when you look at scoring points. Usually a scoring drive has baked into it an explosive run or an explosive pass or a big time penalty say on the defense.

I understand that, we understand that and that's a part of us moving forward as we look at our roster and we look at player acquisition, something that we need to take a hard look at."

Bills players wrapped up the 2023 season by addressing the media before leaving One Bills Drive before the start of the 2024 offseason program.

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