Healthy Bills 1 game out of playoff spot
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP)
Coming off a bye week, the Buffalo Bills are as healthy a team as they've been all season. It comes at the perfect time for a late-season push.
"I was very happy with the players coming back and their enthusiasm running around," coach Doug Marrone said after Monday's practice. "We're at full strength. We don't expect anybody not to be available to us, which is a good sign."
That means the Bills (4-7) should have receivers Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods back. Johnson is coming off a groin issue, but has battled a bevy of injuries this year, including one to his hip and another in his back. Woods would return after missing two games with an ankle injury.
Buffalo's dealt with quarterback tumult since the preseason, with injuries to EJ Manuel and Kevin Kolb forcing Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel into game action. Now Johnson and Woods will join Manuel on the field for the first time since Week 5.
"Everybody's extremely optimistic to get everybody out there 100 percent or as close to it as possible," said running back Fred Jackson, who added the bye week helped his injured left knee "a tremendous amount."
Helping the good vibes is the fact the AFC's sixth wild-card seed is currently under .500. Six teams are 5-6, while the Bills are one of three teams at 4-7.
Though the margin for error is slim, the Bills are still in business coming off an emphatic 37-14 win over the Jets in Week 11.
Starting with Sunday's game against the Falcons, Buffalo's next three opponents have a combined record of 7-26. The Bills then host a Miami team they've already beaten before closing the season at New England.
"We have to hit this running," said linebacker Manny Lawson. "We had a great showing last week and now we got time off to correct our mistakes, learn from our film and prepare for Atlanta."
Lawson admitted excitement after Sunday's results pulled the AFC pack back toward Buffalo, though overall the team preferred the "one game at a time" mentality.
"Everybody in here is going to compete anyway," Jackson said. "There's that added incentive, no doubt, but we have to focus on one game at a time and this weekend it's Atlanta."
The directive comes from Marrone, as it would from any NFL head coach.
"We're playing a good Atlanta Falcon team coming up that has a lot of pride," Marrone said. "I addressed it with the players. I said don't let people pull you out and talk to you about all this other talk. The most important thing is let's just win a game. That's where all our focus should be."
Sunday is a home game, just not at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The team continues its "Bills in Toronto" series with the annual game at the Rogers Centre.
The series has traditionally yielded the atmosphere of a neutral site for the Bills, but Marrone said that's due to on-field struggles rather than the trip north of the border.
"In order to create that advantage for you, you have to go up there and play well," Marrone said. "We do have some fans in Toronto and if we play well up there, we'll create more fans. That'll be important to the future of the organization. Over a period of time, with success, we can really create that type of advantage up there."
A win on Sunday would give the Bills consecutive victories for the first time since Week 3 of 2012.
"We're always going to have that mentality that we're still in there," Lawson said. "Until it's clear-cut and we're done, that's our goal."
NOTES: The Bills signed offensive lineman Manase Foketi to the practice squad and released guard Bryant Browning.
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