ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Oh, that Jeff Fisher. What a comic.
The St. Louis Rams' first-year coach delivered a funny line when asked about his players leaving the comforts of their climate-controlled dome and venturing to play at Buffalo this December weekend.
"I'll probably have a meeting at some point and give the guys the option as to whether or not they want to make the trip," Fisher said. "If they're uncomfortable with the cold weather, we can leave them behind."
Don't be fooled, quarterback Sam Bradford and Co. are coming.
Having already twice braved the challenges of handling whatever the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers can throw at them, Fisher and his Rams (5-6-1) are not expecting to be intimidated by a forecast calling for rain and temperatures in the low 40s on Sunday.
"To me, it's a great challenge. It's kind of a test of our will," Fisher said. "You're going to go up there. The weather's not going to be ideal. You find out a lot about yourselves."
The Rams are on a 2-1-1 roll that includes a tie and a win over the 49ers. They're still on the fringes of the playoff race and have a chance to win three straight and finish a season with eight or more victories for the first time since 2006.
On Sunday, they'll face a Bills team that, at 5-7, is starting to feel much better about itself after overcoming early-season struggles.
And don't begrudge Bills players if they're rooting for bad weather to give them an edge.
"Without a doubt, especially when you've got a team coming in that plays in a dome," running back Fred Jackson said. "There's teams that can come in and play in any condition. We know that. But some teams aren't ready for it. They don't play in it like we do."
That was the case last weekend when the Bills turned to their ground game to counter a persistent drizzle and heavy winds in a 34-18 win over the warm-weather Jacksonville Jaguars. Given that the Rams possess one of the NFL's best pass rushes, the opportunity again presents itself for the Bills to go with their one-two punch of Jackson and speedster C.J. Spiller.
Despite the Bills having an indoor practice facility, coach Chan Gailey isn't afraid of taking his players outside for a session or two at this time of year.
"Sometimes they don't like it. To be honest with you, I don't like it sometimes. It's cold. But so what?" Gailey said. "That's the way the game is. You got to go play, get ready for it."
In St. Louis, Fisher did the best he could to prepare his players by having them practice with wet balls to get a better handle on what might be in store.
Conditions aside, the Rams have found it difficult winning anywhere.
Since Mike Martz was fired after five games in 2005, St. Louis is now on its fifth head coach (including two interims). This franchise has not made the playoffs since 2004, and not finished with a winning record since going 12-4 in 2003.
The Rams have been particularly bad on the road. Since 2006, they're 8-36-1 away from St. Louis, including 1-3-1 this year.
Another issue is winning outside their division. They're 4-0-1 against the NFC West this season, and 1-6 against everyone else.
"I think our record could be better than what it is now. But to win the last two weeks and get ourselves back to the position we're in now, I think it says a lot about our character," Bradford said. "But I think winning a game outside the NFC West and on the road, it's the next step in this team's progression."
The Rams' revival has been sparked by an aggressive defense; St. Louis is tied for fourth in the NFL with 34 sacks, 15 1/2 coming from defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn.
It's their Bradford-led offense that's struggling with consistency. The Rams have been held under 20 points seven times this season, and they have more touchdowns from their defense (four) than they've scored rushing (three).
The Bills are in a similar position now that their Mario Williams-led high-priced defense has begun to jell since the team's bye week. After allowing an average 424 yards in its first seven games, Buffalo's given up an average of 290 over its past five.
Williams, who signed a six-year, $100 million contract in March, has particularly stepped up. He has six of his team-leading 9 1/2 sacks since the bye.
"I think maybe the best word to express would be relief," general manager Buddy Nix said of his defense's improved play. "I did underestimate how long it would take. I thought it would be quicker. It wasn't. But I think we're getting there now."
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