Bills give Sean McDermott second playoff berth of first 3 seasons

PITTSBURGH -- For only the second time in the past 20 years, the Buffalo Bills are playoff-bound.

The Bills secured at least an AFC wild-card berth Sunday in a 17-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, marking coach Sean McDermott's second playoff berth in his three seasons in Buffalo -- joining Wade Phillips and Lou Saban as the only Bills coaches to do so.

After missing the playoffs for 17 straight seasons from 2000 to 2016, the Bills' accomplishment represents a significant shift in the direction of a once-floundering franchise.

"I think we've moved that needle drastically since we've got here and in the entire building," McDermott said before the game. "It's been a long time since this organization has been in a position like this, this late in the season, and we don't take it lightly."

While football fans might be accustomed to the Bills as a losing team, McDermott's first draft class of players -- which includes Tre'Davious White, Dion Dawkins and Matt Milano -- has known success more often than failure.

This season will be that 2017 class' second playoff appearance in the players' young careers; to them, winning is the standard.

"They had a plan, and their plan was to get guys here that can learn, can adapt and can believe in what the coaches are preaching," Dawkins said. "Three years, two playoffs -- it's special. We have a group of dudes that people bond with and love, it's just a brotherhood.

"This is normal now, this is normal. ... It's a whole different team, but it's expected now, you know. We don't like to be just brushed underneath the rug like we are here, and we aren't going anywhere. It's finally time to get that and respect, you know."

When White was drafted with the 27th overall pick in 2017, he said the team told him he was the first step toward changing the culture of the Bills' franchise. He responded Sunday night with two interceptions -- one that set up the Bills' game-tying field goal -- giving him a share of the NFL lead in the category.

The LSU product briefly left the game with a shoulder injury but returned without missing a series to become a spark for Buffalo's defense.

"Tre is an unbelievable pro," general manager Brandon Beane said. "Sean and I want to draft. ... We love everything about Tre -- he's a leader on and off the field. He's in there all the time preparing, studying, and then you see it on the field."

Speaking to reporters after the game, Beane firmly stated that while the Bills will find the joy in this win, their work is not yet complete.

Buffalo has a chance to claim a share of the AFC East lead when it faces the New England Patriots in Week 16; the Bills will win the division outright if they win out and New England loses out.

"We still have work to do, but we're a work in progress. We have by no means arrived," he said. "We're thrilled that we made the playoffs, that's obviously the first goal ... but we've got two games left. We've got a big division game against a team that we have not beat since Sean and I have been here."

Beane was interrupted shortly after his comment by defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who heaped praise on the man who claimed him off waivers midway through the 2018 season.

"This man right here -- Brandon Beane. He doesn't get enough credit, man," Phillips said. "This is the man that put everything together, helped us out. He's a hell of a guy, hell of a leader. Brandon Beane -- that's all I want to say."

For Phillips, who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, the Bills' win Sunday was about more than a playoff berth. It was about capturing the respect that often evades the small-market Bills.

"Every week, we get doubted; every week, (we hear) we're not good enough," he said. "We're one of the best defensive lines in the league, if not the best. We put it on display tonight. ... (We had five takeaways) on Sunday night.

"What else do y'all want?"

The win also gave Buffalo its first 10-win season since its 11-5 campaign under Phillips in 1999, which was the longest active drought in the NFL. Bills quarterback Josh Allen was 3 years old at that time -- now, he's the unquestioned leader of a team hell-bent on changing the way the rest of the league views it.

"Superstar. Superstar and leader," Dawkins said about Allen. "He's our franchise, and we're rallying behind him."