It was a long season, and at times, one that was filled with turmoil and question marks surrounding this Buffalo Bills team. But in the end, the group got the job done and walk away as AFC East Champs for the second year in a row.
Unlike last year, where the Bills (11-6) clinched in Denver, in front of a limited capacity crowd, Sunday the Bills were crowned the division in front of their hometown fans in Orchard Park for the first time since 1995.
While the end result is the same, the moment meant that much more for the Bills locker room.
“It’s a special moment right now, seeing as it’s back to back,” Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver said following the 27-10 win over the New York Jets (4-13). “It really don’t matter who we play. They can line up whoever out there and we gonna go play. We gotta play who we gotta play, so right now we just taking it all in stride. And it don’t come easy winning your division back to back so we just having fun with it right now, but come tomorrow, you know, it’s time to go to work.”
Fellow defensive tackle Harrison Phillips mentioned just how long Bills fans have waited to see this moment in person. While his math was off by a little bit, the sentiment still rang true.
“I think it’s important for us to smell the roses,” Phillips told reporters. “What’s it, 29 years since this happened? Winning it here in front of you guys, in front of our home crew… home crowd. I think that everyone is going to celebrate tonight, have good camaraderie with our team and what that means for all Western New York and Bills fans across the world. So we’re very thankful to be in the position that we are and however the cards may fall, we’re excited for the next opportunity.”
Part of what makes winning the division special this time around is the journey it took to get to this point.
Unlike last year, the team didn’t run away with things. As recent as a month ago, there was plenty of doubt surrounding this Bills franchise. Something Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen acknowledged after the game.
“I’d like to say I’m proud our team for responding the way we did throughout the season,” Allen said during his postgame press conference. “To be sitting here in this position, you know, based on how we were feeling five weeks ago and how everybody was kinda doubting us, feels good. But again, we gotta come out and we gotta play a little better. At the end of the day we won a game. That’s the mentality that we have going forward. Every weeks a playoff week and we just gotta find a way to win.”
While Allen echoed his teammates in regards to appreciating the moment and what they’ve accomplished to this point, he was also clear that this is only step one.
“I mean it feels good,” Allen continued. “Nobody at the end of careers looks back and really figures out how much… how many times you won your division. I think the main goal is the Super Bowl and winning the division just gives you an opportunity to do that. So, that’s really our focus. You know, it’s great, it’s fine. The hats and shirts are cool, but at the end of the day we got a lot more work to do.”
While it may just be “great” and “fine” for Allen and his teammates overall, the fact the fans experienced it in-person, given all that went on last year due to the pandemic, is something Allen admitted meant a little bit more.
“Especially given last year with not too many people in the stands and really only for the playoffs, to do that and feel the energy from the crowd,” Allen said. “I know that this hasn’t been done here in a long time, so to go out there and do that and just get to experience that with them, that’s something I’ll remember for a while…
“Fortunate enough that we won the East, but the main thing is still in front of us and we understand that. So again, we’re happy, we’re excited to have this opportunity tonight, but this by no means feels like we’ve accomplished what we want to accomplish.”
Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins also reiterated just how different this season was vs. last.
“I would say like last year, the whole season was a different scenario,” Dawkins said after the game. “Like, we were on a high all season long. This season, we were on like highs and lows. It was just a rollercoaster. With this season being a rollercoaster of a season, it feels great to get it the grittier way.”
Dawkins also made sure to tug on the heart strings a bit.
“And we’re home,” he continued. “Shoot like Imma be home in 15 minutes. There is nothing better feeling then securing what we talked about… home. Like, the Buffalo fans got to see us, Buffalo fans got to feel it. Buffalo is a special place and I live by it and honestly I feel like I could die by it too. Buffalo has opened up its arms to all of us and for us to do what we did here today, home, it’s a special thing. I don’t want to overexaggerate it, but it’s extremely special. It really is.”
Bills head coach Sean McDermott made sure to not look ahead to the playoffs before first acknowledging what the team was able to accomplish during the regular season.
“You gotta do that,” McDermott told the media. “You gotta take a minute, or a moment tonight to appreciate, cause this is hard to do, make the playoffs a, win the division. But extremely grateful. To God be the glory and I’m just a part of it and I’m extremely grateful to be a part of it.”
Like all the players before him, McDermott didn’t leave out what winning the division and furthermore what having a playoff game at home means.
“To play here… it wasn’t even packed out there, but you could feel the crowd,” McDermott said. “Playing at home, playing in western New York, especially late in the year, it’s been a long time since these fans, because of the situation last year, since the fans have been able to watch a home playoff game in full capacity. So, listen we love playing in front of our fans. It’s a special place to play, to me the best place in the NFL and we look forward to next weekend.”
The Bills did their job and clinched both the division and three seed in the AFC. They now will faceoff vs. the Patriots for the third time this season on Saturday night at 8:15pm.
No matter what happens, Bills fans will have the memory of an AFC East title at home and like Allen said , it’s something I’m sure no one will forget any time soon.