The Buffalo Bills have found their franchise quarterback, their head coach and their first taste of a bright future.
Sunday's AFC Championship Game loss to the Kansas City Chiefs will sting for weeks, but the consolation is the Bills will have a strong chance of returning in future seasons. It's likely the same foe will meet them at some point on their path to the Super Bowl, a possibility of which Buffalo is acutely aware.
"Plain and simple, to get to where we want to be, that's going to be the team that we have to go over, to beat," cornerback Tre'Davious White said Monday. "We're going to have to find a way to beat them. The pieces that they have, how dynamic their offense is, how great their defense is at taking the ball away, that's the team that, if we want to get to where we want to go, that's the team that we're gonna have to beat.
"That's the standard there. They've got the quarterback, they've got the weapons too, the offense. ... As far as the Buffalo Bills wanting to be Super Bowl champions, we're going to have to go through that group. We know that. We'll go into the offseason with the fuel to get better and that's all we can do. I know the guys on this team will, and we'll come back next year and give it a shot."
Buffalo's first entry into the conference title game since the 1993 season promised to be an entertaining one, with the Bills and Chiefs arriving to the affair on hot streaks that stretched deep into the regular season. Both teams brought explosive offenses to the table, but only one ended up showing up on Sunday in Kansas City's 38-24 win that was more lopsided than the score indicated.
It was a sobering experience for the Bills and their fans, who believed they had an MVP in Josh Allen and a good chance of reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since the days of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed. But with defeat comes valuable experience, and the Bills learned a lot more about their foe Sunday, which could prove helpful in future meetings.
"We took another step this season," receiver Cole Beasley said. "There's only one more place to go and that's the goal."
The road to the AFC crown still runs through Kansas City for a second straight year, and third if you count how New England reached Super Bowl LIII in the 2018 season. With Tom Brady's departure bringing the Patriots back to the middle of the pack in 2020, Buffalo has already cleared one hurdle, and made it past another with its win over Baltimore in the AFC Divisional Round.
The Bills will have an entire offseason to work toward their ultimate goal. It's safe to say one team's logo will be plastered on the dart board.