Before the Buffalo Bills broke for summer vacation, Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott sat down for a 45-minute interview with local beat writers.
The first question to the team’s general manager and coach was the same: Have either of you had a chance to relish what happened last year?
McDermott went first, laughing a bit before saying, “No.” Beane was next, and the answer was the same: “No.”
Make no mistake: Breaking a 17-year playoff drought was a big deal. They recognize that.
“The more I was in the community, whether it was neighbors, or people, or whatever, it kept coming up,” Beane said. “So, I don't think it would be fair to say we felt what the city felt, but I did personally ... and Sean probably did in his own way, too, feel, 'Man, this is a big weight on this city, and I do feel it.’ So there was an emotion there to get that off, but I don't think we felt what everybody's been through.”
The team used the moment as a recruiting tool. The multimedia department put together a five-minute video of Bills fans from around the globe celebrating the Cincinnati Bengals’ touchdown that clinched Buffalo’s playoff berth. That video was shown to visiting free agents as a way of saying, “This is what you’re in store for.”
“When you watch that, the hair stands up on you,” Beane said. “A lot of it is the raw emotion of the fans, the people that were down in the stadium in Miami going nuts, the peoples in the bars here going nuts. That's the part that we thought was cool.”
That the Bills made the playoffs in the first year of the Beane-McDermott Era has to be characterized as a pleasant surprise. At this time a year ago, it would be nearly impossible to find any predictions that included a playoff appearance. A 5-2 start to the season, however, made it an attainable goal. The Bills even went into the trade deadline as buyers, acquiring wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin from Carolina for a pair of draft picks.
“As we got closer and closer, I know for myself and I'm sure for Brandon as well as (team owners) Terry and Kim (Pegula), there was a sense of responsibility as we got closer to that mark to do everything that we could to get there,” McDermott said. “Not that we weren't before, but there were certain boxes we needed to check, we felt like, for our foundation – to get certain things right in the first year. Winning was one of them, we just didn't know – you never know – how soon it's going to happen when you're trying to get the core of the situation better.”
The 2017 season wasn’t without speed bumps. A brutal three-game losing streak after that 5-2 start put the team back at .500 and had fans and media saying “here we go again.” The last of those losses came after McDermott benched quarterback Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman, who proceeded to throw five interceptions in the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers.
“Sean stood up there and he owned the Tyrod decision,” Beane said. “He didn’t just off on a whim do that. There was a lot of in-house conversations about positives, negatives, understanding this is the quarterback. This is not easy, and you’re putting in a rookie. But at the end of the day, he went in there and he owned it to the team. And what happens is, people respect that.”
The Bills went back to Taylor the following week at Kansas City and pulled out a win that got them back on track.
“To win that game gave us a new confidence that we could finish strong,” Beane said.
There is a school of thought that says because the Bills exceeded expectations last year, a step back in 2018 would be acceptable.
Don’t tell Beane and McDermott that, though.
“That's not in our DNA. I don't even have to ask him if that's him,” Beane said, pointing to McDermott. “We're wired to win every day. You watch him out there, the practice, do you see any less, I mean, the tempo, everything they've got to a ‘T.’
"If anything, we said, 'We've set the standard. If we drop down, we're pointing it back on ourselves. If anything, we've got to try to make it an even harder standard.’ So, no. We're trying to win even harder now than we were a year ago sitting here."
Once again, expectations are low. The team traded away starting quarterback Taylor and will have a three-man competition to replace him among rookie first-round draft pick Josh Allen, free-agent addition A.J. McCarron and returnee Peterman.
In a recent article on ESPN.com, the Bills ranked 30th in a projection of the next three seasons put together by analysts Louis Riddick, Mike Sando and Field Yates. The trio evaluated each franchise by rating the overall roster, quarterback situation, draft, front office and coaching. Earlier this offseason, the analytics website Pro Football Focus ranked every position group in the NFL, and concluded the Bills have the worst collection of quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive tackles in the league.
"We made some huge strides last year, but behind the scenes – even sometimes in plain view – you’ve seen the mistakes we’ve made and we’ve probably made twice as many that you haven’t seen,” McDermott said. “So we’re not perfect. We’ve got, as you’ve heard me say before, a lot of work to do.”
The Bills showed last year that preseason projections don’t always amount to anything. The best thing that can be said about the current front office is that there is a plan in place.
“Everybody sets a plan,” Beane said – an opinion Bills fans who lived through the Doug Whaley Era might challenge. “I’m sure every regime, coach, GM has a plan. When it gets tough, are you going to stick to it? We’ve tried to hold each other accountable. … You’ve got to make tough decisions, sometimes unpopular decisions. Whether that’s a quarterback benching, whether that’s trading a top pick, whatever it is, if it’s the right move at the right time, you’ve got to be also willing to make mistakes.”
“We learned a lot going through (last year)," McDermott added. “I know Brandon agrees that we can use it as we go forward here.”