Depleted Bills D will look to stop Romo, Cowboys

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Go ahead and laugh. Safety Donte Whitner's heard them all, including the jab about how the Bills' defense will serve as a "punching bag," as one national radio broadcaster put it, for the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.

"It's funny to me hearing things like that. It really doesn't bother me," said the second-year player and one of the few healthy starters left in Buffalo's defensive backfield. "If they're so sure that (Dallas) was going to win, then we wouldn't have to play the game."

The game, though, will be played, and Whitner vows Buffalo's defense will show up.

"We really want to go out and win this football game and prove that we're not just some punching bag," he said.

It won't be easy, and even Whitner will acknowledge that, because the Tony Romo and T.O. show has made defenses -- from New York to Chicago to Miami -- look silly this season.

The Cowboys (4-0) have scored 34 or more points in each game, and their league-leading 151 points overall are fourth most by any team after four games since 1970.

Dallas coach Wade Phillips quickly discounts the talk about a potential Cowboys blowout, and is confident his players are focused.

"They hear this is a trap game, they hear all those things," said Phillips, who makes his first trip to Buffalo as a head coach since being fired by the Bills after the 2000 season. "They're grown men. They should know that. I told them that. They've told each other. They're saying the right things, so I believe they believe it."

With a win, the Cowboys would open 5-0 for the first time since 1983.

The Bills (1-3) are 10-point underdogs and will field a young and severely depleted defense that already has three starters on injured reserve.

Buffalo is down to its third-string cornerback, Jabari Greer, and planning to have Whitner fill in at free safety because Bryan Scott, who was signed only three weeks ago, is better suited to play the strong position.

It's a unit that gave up 420-plus yards in each of its first three games, and allowed 346 in helping the Bills to a 17-14 win over the New York Jets last weekend.

And the Jets' dink-and-dunk attack certainly doesn't compare with the Cowboys' exotic and explosive offense.

The Bills understand that, and are leaning on whatever homespun wisdom they can muster.

There's Whitner, who said: "They put their pants on just like we do."

And there's defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who brought up the feel-good film "Hoosiers."

"The field's 100 yards long and 53 1-3 yards wide," Fewell said, providing his best impression of the Gene Hackman as the movie's coach. "They've got 11. We've got 11."

The Bills might need 12.

That's because they don't have someone fast and tall enough to contain Terrell Owens, who's size and ability are equal to New England's Randy Moss, who burned the Bills for 115 yards receiving and two scores in a 38-7 win in Week 3.

The challenge is for the Bills' offense to keep the pressure off, and that means rookie Trent Edwards carrying over the poised and efficient performance in his first career start last weekend.

Edwards went 22-of-28 for 234 yards passing and a touchdown, filling in for J.P. Losman, who's out with a knee injury.

The game will feature several subplots besides the return of Phillips, who in 1999 became the last coach to lead Buffalo to the playoffs.

For the Cowboys, they make only their fourth trip to Orchard Park, and first since a 10-7 loss in 1996. It's a game that pits teams that twice met in the Super Bowl, both won by Dallas in 1993 and '94.

For the Bills, the game marks their first appearance on Monday night since playing at Indianapolis in 2000. And it's the first time Buffalo's hosted a Monday nighter since facing Denver on Sept. 26, 1994.

"I was 10 years old," Edwards said, with a laugh. "I don't remember who they played."

The Bills might be newcomers to prime time, while the Cowboys remain a team built for the spotlight. Just think T.O., whose most memorable Monday night moment came in 2002 when he pulled a Sharpie out of his sock and signed a ball after scoring a touchdown.

"I've been fortunate to be on teams that have played a lot of Monday night games, and it is special," said Owens. "I'm sure they're going to be pretty jacked up about a Monday night game. So we've just got to go in there and play well on the road and match their intensity."


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