From the moment he was hired in January to take over the head coaching reigns as the ninth head coach of the Buffalo Bills since 1999, Sean McDermott has had a common theme to his first year in Orchard Park: Trust the Process.
While that trust was surely tested among fans who were disappointed over the team’s trading of top wide receiver Sammy Watkins and top cornerback Ronald Darby, through the first quarter of the season, those who trusted in McDermott and first-year general manager Brandon Beane have been rewarded with perhaps the surprise of the season.
The Bills (3-1), who have missed out on the NFL’s playoffs for the past 17 seasons, are in sole possession of first place in the AFC East this late in the season for the first time since Week 7 of the 2008 season. That campaign saw Buffalo sprint out to a 5-1 start behind the strong play of QB Trent Edwards, yet hope faded as the Bills posted their third straight 7-9 season and missed the playoffs.
Sunday’s huge 23-17 road win over the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons could go a long way towards helping McDermott and company snap the playoff drought.
During Monday’s press conference with the media, McDermott took his “Trust the Process” routine it a step further, saying he wants his players, coaches, and front office staff to not only savor the euphoric feeling of the win over Atlanta, but also do whatever it takes to keep experiencing that winning feeling week-in and week-out.
"I believe it's a big challenge for our building to keep things in perspective. ... If we're going to get addicted to anything, let's get addicted to the process that leads to winning. How do you handle winning?" McDermott said. "You go back and focus on the grind, the process of what got us to winning the first place. That's what winners do. That's what teams that are used to winning do. You focus on that process. What we talk about is 90-percent process, 10-percent result. That's where I expect us to be as of a few hours ago is to be focused on that process, focused on the Cincinnati Bengals. Learn from the film that the guys are watching as I speak. Celebrate the good and the things that are up to the standard of performance that we're looking for. And the things that aren't, we better get them corrected fast."
By knocking off such a talented and formidable foe as the high-flying Falcons, the Bills built off of their momentum from a 26-16 home win over the Denver Broncos, and earned the franchise’s best road win since Steve Christie booted five field goals to spearhead the Bills to a 29-10 win over the Miami Dolphins in the 1992 AFC Championship.
The winning ingredients sure appear to be present at One Bills Drive, as the Bills currently boast an elite defense that is currently the stingiest in the league, allowing 13.5 points per game.
Buffalo is protecting the ball well, as the offense hasn’t committed a turnover in a franchise-record 15 quarters. While Tyrod Taylor hasn’t lit up the scoreboard, he is doing enough to have the Bills in position to win games, which is all that should be asked of him. Taylor is completing nearly 66-percent of his passes and has tossed five touchdowns compared to only one interception (in the first quarter of a season-opening win vs. the New York Jets).
More importantly than anything Taylor, LeSean McCoy, and the rest of the team has done on the field, McDermott has these players believing they can beat anyone on any given Sunday.
Learning to deal with the newfound expectations their quick start has produced will be key to how successful this season is, McDermott admitted during his press conference.
With wins over the Denver Broncos and the Falcons already in hand, the Bills are gaining confidence by the day. In a topsy-turvy AFC East where the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (2-2) have the same record as the sure-to-be-tanking New York Jets (2-2), anything can happen.
McDermott knows his team can’t afford to sit back and rest on its early-season accomplishments. Winning is contagious, and McDermott wants the entire organization to become addicted to that feeling.
"There's a lot of people that have been fooled," McDermott said. "That's the key right now. We have to understand who we are. That's where when you look things, you say, 'these plays were up to the standard that is acceptable for us and these plays weren't.' You have to be honest with yourselves to do know who you really are right now. We're not where we need to be. Anyone who thinks we are in this building at least is only fooling themselves. I like to believe that I'm honest with myself when I look at our football team, and I see a team that has to continue to improve."
It’s all part of trusting the process.