Nothing has been normal about the Buffalo Bills’ week, which hardly puts them in exclusive company among Western New Yorkers reeling from the impact of a treacherous lake-effect snowstorm.
So why should Monday night be any exception?
In keeping with one of the more surreal chapters in club history, the Bills will be the “home” team in Detroit’s Ford Field when they take on the New York Jets.
“Oh, I didn’t think about that,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said with a laugh Friday just before the Bills departed for Detroit. “Yeah, that will be odd.”
Odd doesn’t begin to describe what the Bills’ preparation for the Jets – whom they were originally scheduled to face Sunday at 1 p.m. at Ralph Wilson Stadium – has been like. And the fact they held a practice Friday night at the Lions’ facility only tells part of the story.
Due to the storm, players spent most of the week away from One Bills Drive.
The first appearance that most of them made there came Friday, to board buses that took them to the air cargo facility at Buffalo Niagara International Airport for the team’s chartered flight to Detroit.
Other players, such as Hughes, who didn’t live in areas ravaged by the storm, drove themselves to the airport.
Until Friday, most of them spent time at home, going through a very odd process of preparing for a game remotely while in contact via video conferencing with their coaches, who spent most of the week at team headquarters in Orchard Park.
“I’m at a loss for words, honestly,” linebacker Brandon Spikes said. “But that’s the NFL. You’ve got to endure the ups and downs. You never know what’s going to be in front of you. So you’ve just got to be mentally tough and be prepared for whatever.”
“It’s been tough,” Hughes said. “Eating healthy has probably been the toughest part because you really don’t want to lose any steps in that because we’re not really working out or anything like that, so you really don’t want to get too out of shape.”
If there is any bright side, Spikes said, it’s that the Bills already have faced the Jets this season, on Oct. 26 at MetLife Stadium.
The Bills won the game, 43-23, and faced not only the Jets’ starting quarterback at the time, Geno Smith, but also the starter for Monday night’s game, Michael Vick, who replaced Smith late in the first quarter.
“We did great on defense, but that was a few weeks back,” Spikes said. “I’ve been watching film and they’ve been doing a great job, definitely establishing a running game. They’ve been tough, knocking people off the ball. We’ve just got to be prepared and be ready. It’s going to be a physical game.”
“It’s really just us being honed into our iPads,” Hughes said. “The NFL gave us that technology to use, and we’ve really been just taking full advantage of that from just film-watching and being able to kind of talk and text with our coaches. If we see certain things – new things, new tips – that’s really how everyone’s been in communication.”
In light of all the events that have transpired, is it realistic to think the Bills’ players would be able to actually concentrate on playing a game?
Spikes admits he is concerned about that.
“Especially with the younger players,” he said. “I’ve never been through a storm like this. It was just hard to believe. I was sitting in my house looking out and saying, ‘Wow! This is really going down. We can’t go in and everybody’s stuck.’ I wondered, ‘Are we really in Buffalo or in Antarctica?’ ”
Hughes said he was hopeful that the Bills would be able to maintain enough focus to deal with the task at hand, which is to stay alive for a postseason berth.
“We’ve still got a job to do,” he said. “We’re 5-5, we’re still in the playoff hunt, so this will be a great test for us as a team as well as for us as individuals – for us to kind of just go out there and see if we can get the job done. I’m still excited to play, and I’m sure everyone who is showing up” for the flight “is excited to play as well. It’s just more important for everyone to kind of just get together so can really just wrap our heads around the game plan so we can really be able to hit the field flying on Monday.”
Bills president Russ Brandon said the plan is for the team to return to Western New York immediately after Monday night’s game and practice in Orchard Park for their Nov. 30 game against the Cleveland Browns at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“We’ll have a short work week as we prepare for Cleveland,” he said. “We’ll stay nimble and see how the situation evolves and we’ll go from there.”
Brandon said he was hopeful the game would be played at The Ralph, but that would depend on the weather, including any potential flooding when a forecasted warming trend causes the heaping piles of snow in and around the stadium to start melting.
“We’re obviously going to prepare for that and do everything we can to get the facility ready, but it’s hard to predict what we face,” Brandon said. “If the weather does warm up, if we do face flooding, how our facility handles it and see how we come through that over the next few days. We’ll continue to assess that and try to get through this weekend and then go from there. We’re preparing to play at Ralph Wilson Stadium, God willing that the weather holds up.”
To make sure that players made it to One Bills Drive to board buses that would take them to Friday’s flight, the Bills, according to Brandon, “geo-targeted the players and tried to find what the biggest stress points were amongst our athletes and their families.”
“It didn’t matter if you were the VP of Administration or if you were working in stadium operations,” Brandon said. “Anyone who could assist in the process to get our players to the facility, whether it was via automobile, whether it was via snowmobile; even if we could get guys to the side of the road to be picked up as they left their areas. We’ve been in constant communication with our guys. Obviously, there’s also their families. There’s another whole segment to that that we’re working through with our players’ families. We have plans in place for that as well. It’s certainly been a monumental task, but not nearly that task that we’re facing as a community.”
CBS will broadcast the game in the Buffalo and New York City markets. Sunday Ticket subscribers on DirecTV will also have the game.