When it comes to the Pro Bowl, there's perception and then there's reality.
The perception is that Pro Bowlers are the elite players in the National Football League at their respective positions. But sometimes the reality is that deserving players are left off the team, while reputation and image are major factors in getting a free trip to Honolulu. The voting from fans, coaches and players count one-third each in the election.
Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Sam Adams knows how the game works. He earned two Pro Bowl berths in 2000 and 2001 - both as a starter - while playing for the Baltimore Ravens.
But Adams isn't about to lobby for a third invitation. Instead, he prefers to let his play speak for itself.
Adams' play has spoken volumes over the past several weeks, leading his coaches to believe he's worthy of Pro Bowl consideration.
"I think Sam is playing as well as any defensive tackle in the league right now," said Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. "He's been very consistent with his game. I thought he played well for us last season, but he's raised his game to a new level this season. If he keeps playing like he has, he'll get a lot of votes."
Adams has been dominant on the interior of the Bills' defense. He has just 29 tackles, but that's not a true indication of how effective he is. His ability to occupy blockers allows the Bills' linebackers to pursue the ball unimpeded and creates more one-on-one opportunities for defensive ends.
But Adams also is a playmaker. At 6-foot-3 and 340 pounds, he has the size and strength to overpower offensive linemen. He also has remarkable quickness for his size, which allows him to beat single blocks, knife through gaps and wreak havoc in the backfield.
"God gives you the ability, but it's up to you to use it appropriately," said Adams, who had five sacks last year. "The most satisfying thing for me is when you sit down and make a plan against a player and you execute that plan on Sunday. You want to know that your study habits and all the things you're doing are paying off.
"On the field it's a physical battle between me and the guy in front of me, and I'm trying to win those battles. When you're able to physically dominate a person and knock them off the ball, it gives you more confidence and gives you a feeling that you can do anything to them."
Adams was one of the few bright spots in the Bills' 29-6 loss at New England two weeks ago. He was in the backfield most of the night and nearly buried Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into the ground with a sack.
He continued his seek-and-destroy mission in Sunday's 37-17 win over the St. Louis Rams, stuffing the run and providing constant pressure up the middle as a pass rusher.
Perhaps his biggest play came in the third quarter when he dropped Rams running back Marshall Faulk for a 3-yard loss on third and 1. Nate Clements returned the ensuing punt 86 yards for a touchdown to give the Bills a 31-17 lead.
"He's a physical disruption," Bills coach Mike Mularkey said of Adams. "He's hard to block. I don't know if anybody else in the league gets off the ball as well as Sam does. He's a very good athlete for his size. When he's on, he's on."
Although Adams has played well all season, he seemed to turn it up a notch after he was benched during the second half of the Bills' game against Miami on Nov. 17. Adams wasn't happy with the move and had a sideline verbal exchange with Gray and defensive line coach Tim Krumrie at the end of the first half.
But Adams has rarely left the field since, showing why he is an indispensable part of the Bills' defense.
"You want the best players on the field, and Sam is one of those guys," Gray said. "A lot of things Sam does might go unnoticed, but the players on this team know how important he is to this defense. Defensive tackles don't get to the Pro Bowl on stats unless they get a lot of sacks. But the offensive guards and centers know who is the most disruptive and who is dominating when it's run or pass. I'm sure Sam has their vote."
Linebacker Takeo Spikes was the only Bills defender to make the Pro Bowl last season even though the defense ranked second overall in the NFL in yards allowed and fifth in points given up. The Bills' 6-10 record probably had something to do with the Pro Bowl snubs.
The Bills are ranked fourth in total defense this season, but with a 4-6 record, they might need a big finish to make Adams and some of his defensive mates stronger candidates in the eyes of voters.
"With team success comes individual accolades," Adams said. "Making the Pro Bowl would mean we had a good season defensively and we were able to collectively play well enough that some of our individuals are able to receive personal recognition. It's a team thing. If one person gets recognition it's a reflection of everyone."