ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -To be clear, when Donte Whitner made his provocative guarantee that the Buffalo Bills were going to make the playoffs this season, the safety didn't mention anything about finishing with a perfect record.
So when the Bills entered their bye this week coming off their first loss - and a dreadful one at that at Arizona - Whitner wasn't left entirely dejected.
``It's been a while since we lost, but nobody's down,'' Whitner said. ``We're not discouraged at all.''
What's important to keep in perspective is that the Bills (4-1) are still off to their best start in 16 years, sitting atop the AFC East in a race that's suddenly wide open now that the perennially dominating New England Patriots have fallen back to the pack after losing Tom Brady to injury.
If this year is about the Bills proving that they are, in fact, for real, the next test in their maturation is discovering what they're made of by showing how they respond to adversity
a good player. It's the test of a good college program. It's everything. Once you have adversity and you lose football games, how do you bounce back?''
It's a good question, and one the Bills face when entering the meatier part of their schedule.
It starts with Buffalo hosting San Diego on Oct. 19, followed by three straight games against division rivals, a stretch which will begin determining how the East shakes out and whether Buffalo is capable of ending an eight-season playoff drought, the longest in franchise history.
``Every man in here has to take a good hard look in the mirror and challenge himself,'' receiver Lee Evans said. ``We definitely have to come back strong.''
The Bills still have plenty to prove.
As well as the team played in winning its first four games, three of them sparked by fourth-quarter comebacks, there were cracks that began to show in how Buffalo thoroughly unraveled in a 41-17 loss to the Cardinals.
It was a sloppy, Murphy's Law-type of game in which anything and everything went wrong: from quarterback Trent Edwards being knocked cold by a concussion on the third play from scrimmage to backup J.P. Losman committing three turnovers, and a once-stout defense that had absolutely no answer to Kurt Warner's ultra-efficient quick-pass attack.
down chances. This was against a defense that allowed 26 first downs combined in its previous two games and had allowed its first four opponents to convert 10-of-52 third-down opportunities.
``It was bad. We just played bad in every phase of the game,'' Whitner said. ``We know that we can't play that way any more. And I don't think you'll see that again.''
The offense has numerous concerns that require addressing, starting with Edwards' health. The second-year player, who won the Bills starting job midway through last season, did not practice this week to allow him time to recover from post-concussion symptoms.
While Edwards has been described as being alert by teammates that have visited him, the Bills haven't determined when the quarterback will be cleared to play.
The 2007 third-round draft pick out of Stanford has been credited for playing a key role in Buffalo's overall resurgence and providing a spark to what had formerly been a sputtering offense. He's gone 81-of-122 for 948 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Edwards has been particularly sharp in the clutch. He's gone a combined 24-of-32 for 334 yards with two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion in helping Buffalo rally from three consecutive fourth-quarter deficits this season.
No surprise that coach Dick Jauron, last week, noted how the entire team was rallying behind Edwards' play.
caller playing at a high level, it just really elevates your whole football team,'' Jauron said. ``Everybody believes you can win, they believe you will win. And I think it makes a lot of difference.''
Jauron isn't worried about how his team will respond coming out of the bye. Besides resting numerous regulars during the team's two practices this week, he canceled Thursday's session to provide his players a four-day weekend.
Guard Langston Walker isn't concerned, either.
``I wouldn't call this adversity. Adversity is waking up and driving to work every day,'' Walker said. ``There's all kinds of potholes, bad drivers and deer that might run in front of your car. That's pretty adverse to me.''
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