ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — It took four months and a dramatic turn of events on one of the final plays of the NFL's regular season for coach Sean McDermott and the Buffalo Bills to finally — and succinctly — put to rest any suggestion the team had any intention of tanking last summer.
"I'll let you guys handle that," McDermott said, referring to reporters on Monday. "We're moving on after today to the first round of the playoffs."
And that's all that matters to the first-year coach, who took the high road rather than an "I told you so" approach some 18 hours after the Bills clinched the AFC's sixth and final playoff berth and ended a 17-year postseason drought — the longest in North America's four major professional sports.
McDermott never gave into the doubters and instead preached a simple "Trust The Process" message that resonated with his players.
"Every season's a little bit different. Every season you go through tests and challenges," McDermott said.
"It's going to try to pull you apart. It's going to test you, and it's going to test your mental toughness," he added. "And our players hung in there."
Rather than packing up, as 17 of Buffalo's preceding teams did on the day after the regular-season finale, these Bills returned home to a jubilant reception early Monday.
They were greeted at Buffalo Niagara International Airport by some 400 chanting fans, who braved 2-degree temperatures after Buffalo beat Miami 22-16 and clinched its playoff berth once Baltimore gave up a last-minute touchdown in a 31-27 loss to Cincinnati.
McDermott is even considering sending the Bengals a gift — chicken wings, perhaps — as a thank you for Andy Dalton hitting Tyler Boyd for a 49-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-12 with 44 seconds left.
And now, Buffalo (9-7) is moving on in preparing to play at AFC South champion Jacksonville (10-6) on Sunday.
McDermott rewarded his players by giving them the next two days off, before the team returns to practice Wednesday.
They earned it.
Buffalo overcame exceedingly low expectations following a major yearlong roster overhaul which led to the departures of numerous high-priced stars.
Among the players traded were receiver Sammy Watkins (to the Los Angeles Rams) and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (Jacksonville).
The Bills' secondary was retooled as was their group of receivers, leaving the team to open the season with 24 holdovers from 2016.
On the field, the Bills overcame the elements by beating Indianapolis 13-7 in overtime amid white-out conditions on Dec. 10.
GM RICK SMITH SAYS HE'LL RETURN TO TEXANS AFTER LEAVE
HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith provided more details on his future with the team on Monday, a day after announcing that he was taking an extended leave of absence to be with his wife as she battles breast cancer.
Smith said he will return to the team, but that he expects to be away for at least a year.
"This is not a referendum on my tenure, because my tenure is not over," Smith said. "This is a comma, not a period."
It's unclear if he'll step back into his role as general manager when he does return.
"I am going to maintain the executive vice president title," Smith said. "If we hire a GM and have a guy to run the personnel then we'll do that. It's a fluid process."