ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Little point asking Nate Clements about the recent past.
The Buffalo Bills' star cornerback has no reason to reflect on last weekend, one of the poorest outings of his career, because there are bigger things on Clements' mind: Steve Smith's coming to town.
"I can't wait," Clements said, looking ahead to facing the Carolina player, who's emerged as the NFL's leading receiver. "To be the best, you have to beat the best. He's the top receiver in this league and I feel like I'm the top corner in this league. So it's definitely going to be a challenge. And I'm definitely excited and looking forward to it."
As for any thoughts on how he was burned uncharacteristically for two touchdowns in a 48-10 loss at San Diego last weekend?
"Don't need to comment on it," Clements said. "It's over with."
It had better be or the Bills (4-6) stand little chance of competing Sunday when they host the Panthers (7-3), who place a heavy emphasis on Smith as their go-to guy.
Clements is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and has led the Bills with 19 interceptions - but only one this year - in his five seasons in Buffalo. This also happens to be the final year of Clements' contract, and he's already gone on record he wants to be the highest-paid player at his position.
Here's his chance to prove it.
"He should be hungry," Bills safety Troy Vincent said. "These are the matchups that you want to change your opinion and everyone else's opinion about yourself and your performances."
Thing is, few have been capable of shutting down Smith this season.
Bouncing back from a broken leg that forced him to miss all but the first game of last season, he's offset a sputtering running attack that's been mostly ineffective outside the red zone, and helped Carolina hold a share of the NFC South lead with Tampa Bay.
"He never ceases to amaze me," Panthers coach John Fox said. "He's a special talent, that's for sure."
Smith leads the league with 72 catches for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns, and has already registered seven 100-yard games, including a franchise-best 201-yard outing against Minnesota last month.
Smith's been so productive that his yards receiving represent more than a third of the Panthers' entire offense. Heck, he has more touchdown catches than six teams have scored this season, and his yards receiving are 35 short of the 1,141 Houston has produced as a team.
As well as the Panthers have played, they're hardly invincible, as evidenced by a 13-3 loss at Chicago last weekend. While the Bears couldn't contain Smith, who had 169 yards receiving, they shut down the running attack, limiting Carolina to 55 yards, and rattled quarterback Jake Delhomme, who threw two interceptions and was sacked a career-worst eight times.
The loss ended the Panthers' six-game win streak and marked only the team's fifth loss in its last 18 games. They haven't lost two in a row yet this season and are not planning to start now.
"Just like you can't get caught up in when you're winning, and how everybody pats you on the back, you can't get caught up in the fact we lost the game," safety Mike Minter said. "We've got to win the next one."
On paper, the matchup looks like an easy one for Carolina.
The Bills' defense is banged up and proven porous against the run. And their offense is pedestrian at best, averaging 15 points a game whether J.P. Losman or Kelly Holcomb is starting. Losman will get his second straight start after the first-year starter was benched after four games this season.
The Panthers aren't taking anything for granted, noting the Bills play much better at home.
"I'm not worried about statistics," guard Mike Wahle said. "If you look at that team, they are 4-1 at home. We play them at home. Check those stats out."
Buffalo remains on the fringe of playoff contention, sitting two games back of AFC East-leading New England. The Bills, 0-5 on the road, have difficulty explaining the disparity of their home and road records.
"If I had the answer, I'd be sitting up on the second floor," Vincent said, referring to the team's management offices. "We just have to play better, starting with myself.... If we want to make a run, we have to get consistent here soon."
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