CHARLOTTE -- The Buffalo Bills have done a good job recently against undefeated teams. Now they get to try their hand against one of the NFL's cellar-dwellers.
Coming into tonight's game (8:20 p.m., ESPN) against winless Carolina, the Bills have won three in a row, including two against teams that were previously undefeated.
One might think that kind of success would leave Buffalo brimming with confidence to take on a team that has lost six consecutive games this year and eight in a row overall.
"We're familiar with where they've been," Buffalo coach Wade Phillips said.
Indeed, the Bills lost six of seven games to close their 1997 schedule before going 0-3 to start this season.
"We're fighting our way back," Phillips said. "We were at a crossroads there, and I think the team responded well even though we were playing some awfully good teams."
Carolina coach Dom Capers can say pretty much the same thing about his team. Even though the Panthers are on their longest slide ever and are in the midst of the worst rash of injuries in the franchise's three-plus seasons, the team continues to come up with big plays. In five of its six losses, Carolina either led or was tied at halftime and then had a chance to win the game in the final seconds.
Most important to Capers at this stage is that he continues to get good effort from his players in practice and games.
"We know we can't do anything about the first six games, but we sure can do a lot about what happens in the next 10," he said. "I still believe that we can get this thing turned around. I really believe it because of our attitude."
Both teams have gotten strong play from new quarterbacks in recent weeks, although the changes were for decidedly different reasons.
Two weeks ago, Buffalo's Doug Flutie took over because of rib injuries to starter Rob Johnson and helped the Bills to a 31-24 victory over Indianapolis.
Last week, Flutie capped his first NFL start in more than nine years by turning a botched running play into a 1-yard bootleg for the winning touchdown against Jacksonville with 13 seconds left. His quick thinking gave Buffalo a 17-16 victory that knocked the Jaguars from the ranks of the undefeated, and it made the already popular Flutie the toast of the town in his return to the NFL after eight seasons in Canada.
"I don't read it or watch it or listen to it," he said. "I know when I have a good day and when I have a bad day, so I try not to get caught up in what's going on around me."
Carolina's Steve Beuerlein can't help but get caught up in the excitement he has generated since becoming the Panthers' starting quarterback two weeks ago in a very unusual chain of events. Beuerlein got the job when Kerry Collins, the Panthers' first-ever draft pick in 1995, reportedly told Capers he had lost his heart. Within six days, Collins had been cut and Beuerlein, who signed with Carolina in 1996 with the specific intent of backing up and helping nurture Collins, was his successor.
In his two starts, Beuerlein has completed 70 percent of his passes and compiled a rating of 103.9, which would be third in the NFC if he had enough attempts.
Beuerlein said much of the reason for his success is due to the West Coast-style offense that the Panthers installed this year. While Collins appeared to struggle to adapt to the new offense, Beuerlein has had no such problems.
"I feel comfortable in it," he said. "I'm looking forward to getting better and better as the weeks go by. But I've always wanted to play in this type of offense, and this is the first time in my 12 years that I've actually been in a West Coast style of offense. As a quarterback, it's a lot of fun."
Even though he's had some success with the offense, Beuerlein also has taken several hard shots, the result of an offensive line that's been particularly hard hit by injuries.
It doesn't figure to get any easier for Beuerlein today, when his left tackle, undrafted rookie Rob Bohlinger, will line up opposite Bruce Smith, the Bills' perennial Pro Bowl defensive end.
"We'll have some schemes to try to help out," Capers said. "You don't want to leave a guy one on one."
Beuerlein said he doesn't expect any problems.
"We're not going to concede anything," he said. "We just want to win. Any win. That's all we're after."
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