Terry Pegula was ready to do the honors. Beaming with pride, the Buffalo Bills' owner couldn't wait to present a game ball to Sean McDermott for winning his NFL head-coaching debut.
As McDermott wrapped up his locker-room speech after the Bills' 21-12 season-opening win against the New York Jets Sunday at New Era Field, Pegula was about to step forward for the big moment. There was just one problem. No one told Kyle Williams.
"Hold on! Hold on!" the veteran defensive tackle yelled just as McDermott finished. Williams was shaking a football up and down as he gently nudged the coach toward the middle of the room.
"Special delivery, baby!" Williams said. "First win, in the division, Game One."
When someone later told Williams about Pegula's plan, he offered a sheepish grin. He can rest easy. The only thing better than the owner making the presentation himself was that a player, especially one who has been on the team since 2006, saw fit to recognize the achievement of the rookie he hired to guide his team after one coach quit on him, and another was incompetent enough to be fired barely two years on the job.
Everyone on the team understood that it was a big deal because, this was exactly the type of win McDermott was particularly proud to orchestrate. As bad as the Jets are expected to be, the Bills' players knew there was plenty to take from how they triumphed to sit alone in first place in the AFC East thanks to the New England Patriots' loss and the postponement of the Miami Dolphins' opener due to Hurricane Irma.
The Bills showed a high level of intensity. They were mostly smart. They were tough-minded. And although LeSean McCoy gave the most dynamic performance, with 159 yards from scrimmage, several other players contributed significantly to the outcome.
"A great team victory," McDermott called it.
His players weren't just watching and listening to him during the postgame speech.
They were also paying attention to how the new guy in charge handled himself on the sidelines.
"I will say this, there was no worry, there was none of that," said safety Micah Hyde, whose interception with 1:35 left sealed the outcome. "We were out there playing loose. That's the first time I've seen a coach, a head coach in his very first game, be that loose.
"The guy was just focused. He had confidence in us, he knew we were going out there and get the win. I think that's what gives us the confidence in him."
Hyde is one of the newcomers, along with fellow starting safety Jordan Poyer, who also had an interception and a sack.
McDermott's coaching background is rooted in defense, and rebuilding the secondary was the highest priority of his first offseason with the Bills. Besides signing Hyde and Poyer in free agency, the team also made cornerback Tre'Davious White (who nearly had an interception and played well) its first-round pick.
This is not the anything-goes environment that existed under Rex Ryan the past two seasons. McDermott brought his laser-focused approach to a team in desperate need of organization, and it immediately showed. Players felt that McDermott and his assistant coaches were, generally speaking, putting them in the best position to succeed.
"It was really special," veteran guard Richie Incognito, another incumbent, said. "It was kind of a whole different energy. Everybody's just kind of done a really good job of just buying in. Coach has been preaching to worry about the 53 guys in this room and the coaching staff. We can't control what's outside."
A potential "outside" situation came up after the Bills took the opening drive from their own 25-yard line to the Jets' 8, where they faced a third-and-goal. Tyrod Taylor fired to tight end Charles Clay in the end zone, the ball went through his hands and cornerback Juston Burris intercepted. You could just hear the groaning throughout the stadium and in front of televisions everywhere in Western New York. Same old Bills.
But the defense prevented the Jets from capitalizing.
There was a second here-we-go-again moment with 3:59 left in the second quarter after new kicker Stephen Hauschka did a pretty good imitation of his predecessor, Dan Carpenter, by sending a 46-yard field-goal attempt wide left with the Bills looking to increase a 7-3 lead.
Hauschka's counterpart, Chandler Catanzaro, responded with a 52-yard field goal on the next possession to make it 7-6, but the Bills held it together -- just as they did after Josh McCown's touchdown 1-yard quarterback sneak narrowed the gap to 14-12 late in the third quarter. On the very next series, the Bills marched to Mike Tolbert's 1-yard TD run to expand the margin to 21-12.
There was never any panic. Players on both sides of the ball trusted that they would overcome because they trust each other.
"It all comes down to that -- just believing in one another," Incognito said. "You're going to face a ton of adversity throughout the NFL season, even throughout games. And when stuff like that goes bad, we know that we're all just going to pick each other up -- offense is going to pick up the defense, defense is going to pick up the offense, special teams is going to do their part."
McDermott appreciated receiving the game ball and the overall love the team showered upon him. He felt "very thankful, very thankful."
But he knew his team could have done better and will need to make improvements before facing the Carolina Panthers, for whom he spent six seasons as defensive coordinator, next Sunday.
"I was making a list during the game," the coach said.
"He's a guy that's always ready," said Tolbert, who was with McDermott on the Panthers. "I'm pretty sure there are going to be four or five things in the meeting (Monday) he's going to say, 'This is what we need to work on.'"