MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- When Sean McDermott met with his leadership council of about a dozen players before the season, the group's message to the rookie Buffalo Bills coach about pregame speeches was simple: Keep it short, then turn it over to defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
Before the Bills took the field Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, Williams' words lit a fire in the AFC's underdogs, who at the start of the regular season faced 200-1 odds to win the Super Bowl.
"Not this team. Not the 2017 Bills. Not this team. Not the rebuilding team. They traded away all their good players. Not this team to break the drought," teammate Eric Wood recalled Williams reminding his team of the expectations it had defied.
Not this team right?!?! pic.twitter.com/WicXGMj4dU
— Eric Wood (@EWood70) January 1, 2018
Williams is the dean of the Bills' locker room, and he had special motivation to prove wrong those who believed the Bills could not make the playoffs. Drafted in 2006, Williams has been in the middle of the franchise's now-ended 17-year playoff drought. He has never made the postseason -- until now.
"He's been leaving it on the field for years, and he deserves every second he gets in the playoffs," owner Terry Pegula said.
With two of his children at his feet, Williams was quickly surrounded by reporters in the locker room shortly after the Cincinnati Bengals' stunning touchdown on fourth-and-12 flipped the AFC's final playoff berth from the Baltimore Ravens to the Bills.
"I'm grateful," Williams said. "There's been so much work to get here. I'm not leaving until this gets done."
Williams will be 35 before next season and has a contract that expires in March. Declining last week to reveal his plans about whether he would retire this offseason, Williams put the cherry on top of his career Sunday with a touchdown.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor said the Bills began practicing the play last week. The 303-pound Williams lined up at fullback on a first-and-goal in the third quarter. He scored a 1-yard touchdown, his first score since 2001, in high school. Williams and his teammates fell to the turf in sync in a group celebration before he was mobbed on the sideline.
McDermott stood close to Williams and embraced him as the Bengals scored their improbable touchdown and then held off the Ravens to seal the Bills' playoff berth. McDermott then gave the floor to Williams to break down the team.
"Not us, right? Not us. Not us. Let's tank it, man. Let's just be done with it," Williams said. "They don't know anything about heart. They don't know anything about work. Huh? That's who we are. These boys are gonna enjoy it with their dad. They knew what was coming and they wanted to come celebrate with us."
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) January 1, 2018
Prospects for the Bills' season looked bleak twice this season: first when they traded then-top receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby in August, and again in November when McDermott's decision to bench Taylor for rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman badly backfired and led to Buffalo bottoming out at 5-5.
It took one of the most miraculous plays of the season for the Bengals to push the Bills into the playoffs, but the same luck that once seemed to work against Buffalo instead turned in their favor.
At 9-7, they will travel to Jacksonville on Sunday and would return to New England in the divisional playoffs with a win in the wild-card round.
"We know a lot of people didn't necessarily have at the top of their boards or picked us to go to the playoffs," Taylor said. "We embrace that underdog role. It's not the finish for us, it's the start of something special and we need to carry it over to the playoffs."
Win or not against the Jaguars, McDermott's first season in Buffalo has been a success.
"He did a great job," Pegula said. "These guys believed in him. He never asked them to do anything he wouldn't do himself. I think that's a good quality as a leader.
"Sean's been saying, this is a process. You never give up. Today was an example of what happens when you keep plugging away."