ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills are 3-0 for the first time since 2011 and the world outside Western New York is starting to pay attention.
They’re up to No. 12 in ESPN’s NFL Power Rankings and being discussed as a possible AFC playoff contender — and rightfully so. Buffalo has a top-10 offense (No. 8 in total yards) and defense (No. 5 in yards allowed) through three games, but hasn’t finished a season top 10 in both categories since 1999, which is also the last time it finished with double-digit wins.
The Bills have faded after hot starts before and skepticism of their early success places an emphasis on Sunday’s game against the 3-0 New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS) — an opportunity to prove their validity against arguably the NFL’s best team.
Except the Bills don’t view the Patriots as a measuring stick.
As safety Micah Hyde put it, competitors always want to be challenged but it’s far too early in the season to let an opponent determine the Bills’ value.
“Obviously, you want to play the best,” Hyde said. “It’s not a measuring stick for us, at all, in September — you can’t win a Super Bowl in September. We’re 3-0, trying to get to [4-0] and that’s all that matters.”
Nearly every professional sports team offers some variation of “we’re not paying attention” regarding outside hype or criticism, and these Bills are no different. They don’t feel they’ve done anything yet.
“There’s nothing that’s really been accomplished so soon in the season,” wide receiver Cole Beasley said. “We could win our first eight games, lose the rest and not make the playoffs. You can’t really think about recognition or anything like that, you really just have to take it one game at a time.
“Everybody says that and it seems cliché, but I’ve been in this league eight years now and if you take any approach but that one, it’s not going to bode well for you. Any time you get too ahead of yourself, that’s when you kind of start shooting yourself in the foot a little bit.”
Buffalo’s mindset trickles down from its leadership, specifically coach Sean McDermott. Bills fans are familiar with his insistence on trusting “the process” and taking the season “day by day,” and the third-year coach has a noticeable effect on his team.
“Being successful in the NFL means staying in the moment — it’s really hard for teams and players to do that, but the coaching staff here does a good job of setting that foundation,” Beasley said.
And that starts with keeping a rigid routine.
“I mean we don’t change really, we do what we do,” McDermott said. “I think there’s a lot of power in our routines, in our process — so that’s really what we stick with, and all the while trying to improve as a football team with the growth mindset.”
It’s already made an impact on Beasley, who signed with the Bills after spending seven seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.
“[McDermott] does a good job of just focusing on the process and getting the rest of the team to focus on that,” Beasley said. “We start the week the exact same way … no matter who we’re playing, talk about the things that we need to do well, talk about the things we need to do better. It almost seems like it would be boring that way but it’s really the best way to go — keeps everybody locked in on what they’ve got to do each day.”
That’s not to say this team is a robotic product of its coach’s creation. There’s still a longing for respect — even if it comes out jokingly like it did last week, when cornerback Tre’Davious White asked a reporter to write about the Bills’ secondary.
“It’s human nature but at the end of the day, we know the goal as a whole and as a unit is to win football games,” White said. “I feel like if we win, those things will come — the recognition will come. That’s what it all boils down to, winning.”
Beating the Patriots on Sunday might change the national perception of the Bills, but the focus in the locker room seems unlikey to shift.
“When a season’s all said and done, that’s when you get your respect,” Hyde said. “We’re not worried about necessarily getting the respect right now or getting on the front page. Respect comes at the end of the season — that’s when we’ll get acknowledged.”