It is something that Sean McDermott has preached since taking over as head coach in 2017. Being mentally tough is an essential attribute in competitive sports, one that separates the good athletes from the greats. A wise man once told me that there are times that the six inches between your ears means more than the 100 yard football field, or the 90 feet from home base to first, or the 200 feet of a hockey rink. After what transpired down in Jacksonville last weekend, the mental toughness that Sean McDermott has preached about for almost five years will take center stage. What happens next for the Bills will be determined by not only the X’s and O’s, but also by how strong and resilient those six inches between the ears are.
Going into last week’s game against the Jaguars the Bills were the betting favorites to win the Super Bowl and Josh Allen was the betting favorite to win league MVP. The Bills have not experienced doubt on the national stage in quite some time. Last year the Bills were expected to take the division from the Brady-less Patriots, but they were not expected to finish 13-3 and set franchise records along the way. Even through their deep playoff run the Bills surpassed expectations. As a team, the Bills have fed off of the underdog and “nobody believes in us” approach as they have made the playoffs 3 of the last 4 seasons. But this team is no longer able to say that, as they were one of the most common Super Bowl picks in the preseason. It seems as if almost everyone believes in the Bills, fans, media and Vegas with their mighty sportsbooks. This adds a tremendous pressure to Sean McDermott’s team, something they have not had to deal with before.
After the loss last week, the strength of the Bills has been questioned. Media and fans have called into question if their preseason picks of the Bills finally winning that elusive title was reaching too far. Being questioned isn’t new for the team, it is a place that they are comfortable. The difference this time is that they are being questioned from the standpoint of not living up to expectations, both set by themselves and by those around them. How the Bills respond to this adversity will define their 2021 season. It did last year after the ‘Hail Murray’ game. As we know, the Bills rode that feeling and resilience all the way to the AFC Championship game. Nobody expected the Bills to go 17-0 this year. But nobody expected the Bills to start the season out with a loss to Pittsburgh and lose to the one of the worst teams in football in Jacksonville, either. Are the Bills overrated? Is Vegas wrong for believing they are the most complete team in the league? Or are their losses the byproduct of a fluky NFL season where upsets are happening weekly?
Mental toughness is tested every week, every game, and every day when you are a professional athlete. When teams are winning, we don’t think about how mental toughness plays a role in success. But it does. With the mental toughness of the Bills now front and center, it will decide how the rest of the season plays out for them. Will the loss in Jacksonville be the beginning of a mental unwinding and downward spiral for the season, or will it be one week of adversity that the Bills needed to overcome to reach their ultimate goal. One thing is for sure: Sean McDermott didn’t spend years preaching mental toughness for the team to fall apart now. The time has finally come to see just how much McDermott’s process has worked in Buffalo. The mental battles that the players face week-to-week in this league can be the hardest part. Sean McDermott is banking on his team being ready for the challenge.