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Bills put in flurry of work to face Jets at Ford Field

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Bills receiver Sammy Watkins grew up in Florida and played his college football at Clemson, so when the snow started falling in Buffalo, he thought it was pretty cool.

"Yeah, at first it was all fun," he said. "It was a great experience, my first time in the snow. I had my family there. It was fun."

But then the snow didn't stop. For three days, it didn't stop.

"Then it got kind of scary," Watkins said. "When you looked out there and saw nothing but white snow everywhere. Everything was covered in snow and you wondered if it was going to stop. When it stopped (Friday), it was a big sigh of relief from me."

The trick now for the Buffalo Bills is to get ready to play, not just a football game, but a game they have to win to remain viable in the playoff race.

"Challenging," head coach Doug Marrone said late Friday night after putting his team through its first practice since losing to the Dolphins a week ago Thursday night. "But I think we are all in this together. We're all faced with the same challenges and adversity. It's a common challenge and anytime that happens you can rally around it."

Friday started with several members of the team and staff needing snowmobiles to take them from their houses. The three-day snowstorm dumped more than seven feet of snow and shut down greater Buffalo.

Most of the players and coaches, like the rest of the citizenry, were confined to their houses for much of that time. The game against the Jets, which was scheduled to be played Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, was moved to Monday and to Ford Field.

As for game prep, all the coaches could do was send out game plans and the various installations to the players via iPad communication. Conference calls were held for the various position groups.

But there had been no football-related activity until Friday.

"It's going to be tough," Marrone said. "A lot of guys were doing a lot of things, shoveling snow and getting stuff done. We sent out workouts to all the players. But they are pro athletes and we are more than halfway through the season.

"We expect them to be ready to go. Obviously, with all the days off, you've got to work the kinks out and that's what we are doing."

Excuses will not be given or accepted, Marrone said.

"We all know the situation," he said. "No one is going to feel sorry for us. We've got to go out and play. We've got to compete and win. That's what our job is and we understand that."

The adventure continued Friday morning. Getting all 53 players, the coaching, medical and equipment staffs to the airport turned into a community mission. The players and coaches who lived closer to the stadium were picked up by snowmobiles and dropped off at the highway, where they were picked up by bus and transported to the airport.

"The hardest thing is mobilizing the entire operation in a matter of not even 24 hours," Bills president Russ Brandon told reporters before the team's flight left for Detroit at 3 p.m. "We found out at 7:30 or 8 last night. So trying to get everyone to the airport, get your equipment operation there, your video operation, your medical and training operation — getting everything mobilized, it's been an overnight exercise."

The entire entourage arrived in Detroit at about 4:30 p.m. After getting checked into the hotel and having a quick meal, the team got to the Lions practice facility around 5:30 for meetings and they finally took to the indoor practice field at 7:45 for practice.

"This is far different from the norm," Brandon said. "Players are creatures of habit, and as far as getting the proper nutrition, strength and conditioning, all the performance stuff, that's been compromised. They can't really work out. So there are significant challenges ahead."

Some of the players didn't mind having a few extra, unscheduled days off.

"It's been relaxing," running back Boobie Dixon said. "I had a chance to relax and reload. It's been fun. I've been hanging out with some teammates and we've had some time to vibe. It's been cool."

But what about getting ready for the game?

"Yeah, that's definitely been different," Dixon said. "That's definitely been awkward. You just kind of feel like you're not on the regular routine. You just kind of feel like you aren't doing something right. You can definitely feel it.

"Like I said, we've been huddling together at each other cribs close by and just been talking and vibing and trying to stay on the same page. We're on a mission and we just can't let this snow throw us off."

The mission is two-fold. The Bills are 5-5 and need a win over the 2-8 Jets to boost their flickering playoff hopes. Also, they want to lift the spirits of their snow-bound fan base.

"If we can take everyone's mind off the plight of what's in front of us for a few hours and represent Buffalo as the fans would want us to — that would mean a lot to all of us," Brandon said. "It's an incredible community, a passionate community, and we take pride in where we're from. It's a city of neighbors who take care of each other, and we know we all have a tough dig out ahead.

"So our thoughts and prayers and with our region and community, above all else."

The Bills will practice at the Lions facility again Saturday and have a walk-through Sunday.

"(The Lions) have been outstanding; I can't thank them enough," Marrone said of the Lions opening their practice facility to them. "They've opened everything up and that's really unheard of in this league, unless they are forced to. Detroit wasn't forced to do this.

"I have great admiration for this organization. We have everything. We have a locker room right behind us. We have meeting rooms. That's a big plus for us. It helps gap some of the issues and challenges we had."

What about seats?

Tickets for the Bills-Jets game at Ford Field (7 p.m. Monday) will be distributed via email to Bills and Lions season-ticket holders first, then to the general public beginning Saturday. All seats are free and general admission.

Seating for the general public will be available through the Flash Seats app beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Tickets also will be available at the Ford Field box office from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday and after 10 a.m. Monday, if any remain.