Sean McDermott remained behind the scenes Monday while meeting with players and sorting through business that comes with the end of every NFL season. The Bills head coach is expected to address the media later this week and might even provide a little insight into where the Bills are headed.
For Buffalo fans, it was easy to get swept away in the euphoria after the Bills reached the postseason for the first time in 18 years. The Bills finished 9-7, giving them a winning record for the third time this century. They wiggled into the playoffs and had a chance to beat the Jaguars before falling in an AFC wild-card game.
CBS analyst Bill Cowher, the former Steelers coach, endeared himself to #billsmafia and lunatic tailgaters in Buffalo when he crashed through a table Sunday before the Buffalo-Jacksonville game. You can only hope Terry Bradshaw decides to start himself on fire at some point in the coming years.
Oh, it's all in fun, right?
Speaking of fun …
"We're not going to catch anybody by surprise no more," rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White said. "This is a new era. We're going to be giving guys hell for years to come. I firmly believe that. We know what to expect. Now we're going into next season with that swagger. We know we're going to (win)."
Just know that McDermott isn't going to take a victory lap around the media room when he shows up for his postseason presser. He'll likely thank the fans for supporting the franchise in his first season and may acknowledge the Bills having a few building blocks in place and a promising future.
But he's not going to stand up there and lie and suggest better days are ahead simply because the Bills made the playoffs. He has looked through the season with a wide lens and will be taking a cold, hard look at his team. It would be shocking if he didn't warn the masses that his team is a long way from being a true contender.
He said as much last week.
"Sometimes, the second year is harder than the first year because people are now going to try to put us up here," McDermott said, raising his hand to eye level, the day after the Bills clinched a playoff berth. "We have so many warts, and the margin of winning is so tight. There's so much work to be done."
McDermott and GM Brandon Beane are committed to acquiring the right people, not necessarily the most talented individuals, moving forward. Only 21 players remain on the roster from a year ago. The Bills traded away a collection of gifted players for various reasons and came away better overall.
People should expect the overhaul to continue. The number of players who remain from 2016 could be cut in half before next season. Beane hasn't been through his first free-agent signing period or his first draft as an NFL general manager, and he's certainly not shy about making moves.
"I don't see why they would stray from their plan," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "You look at guys like Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer and the draft class they brought in last year. When you think about high-character people, you think that you're sacrificing talent in those cases, but I think they got the best of both worlds."
"If you want to build a great team, a sustainable team and definitely a team that hasn't won in a long time like we did this year, that's the type of people you have to bring in here, guys that love the work, that overachieve and inspire others to be great as well."
The Bills' most glaring need, of course, is a true franchise quarterback. Tyrod Taylor reached a point in a poor offense that his statistics became predictable for any given game: 16-18 completions in 27-30 attempts for about 175-200 yards and a touchdown or two with the odd interception.
Sure enough, at season's end, he averaged 17.5 completions in 28 attempts for 186.6 yards with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. McDermott was so desperate for a quarterback with a higher ceiling that he inserted unproven rookie Nathan Peterman against the Chargers, even though the Bills were 5-4, based on hope.
Buffalo needs upgrades at wide receiver. They need help at defensive tackle and could use another pass rusher and another linebacker. They're lacking depth at running back, offensive line and cornerback. They might even search for an offensive coordinator if McDermott decides to replace Rick Dennison.
The Bills had reason to be positive Monday while cleaning out their lockers. They weren't about to disparage their teammates, but most truly believed they were headed in the right direction. They played in pressure situations. Now, they know what's expected after a year under their head coach.
"Overall, we’ve come far," guard Vlad Ducasse said. "A lot of people counted us out, but we just stick together. We trust the process. We made the best out of it. This is the beginning of it. A lot of people thought it was a rebuild. It wasn't a rebuild for us. We were moving forward."
It was all true, and it all matters, but only to a certain degree. The Bills have major issues that need to be addressed in the offseason if they want to return to the playoffs next year. Buffalo had practically everything fall into place this season in a strange season in the AFC, helping to disguise their shortcomings.
For a team with holes, next season is no gimme.
The Bills led the league with a plus-14 turnover differential during their 5-2 start. Stephen Hauschka made 13 consecutive field-goal attempts of 50 yards or longer, an NFL record. They wouldn't have made the playoffs without Andy Dalton, a lifetime honorary member of Bills Nation, didn't throw an unlikely touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd in the final minute to lead the Bengals over the Ravens.
Buffalo caught a break when Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill blew out his knee, ending a promising season before it started. The Dolphins traded away their top running back and still were in playoff contention with three games remaining. To expect that much to fall in the Bills' favor again could be asking too much.
But here's the good news: If McDermott can lead a team short on talent into the playoffs like he did this season with the Bills, imagine what can happen if the Bills become a destination for good players looking to win. Beane showed the temerity to make bold moves before and during the season.
Beane hasn't done much talking this season, leaving McDermott to deliver the message for the franchise. He's also expected to meet with the media, but he's not going to stray much from McDermott. If there was one plan that worked all year, it was letting their actions speak for them while sticking to the process.