With J.P. Losman still out with a sprained left knee ligament, the Bills will start Trent Edwards at quarterback for a second week in row.
While an upset victory against a team as solid as the Cowboys is a bit much to expect, if the rookie out of Stanford can duplicate something respectably close to his performance in beating the New York Jets a week ago, it's expected that he'll replace Losman permanently in the lineup.
Meanwhile, the game marks the return of Wade Phillips as a head coach to Buffalo, a bitter pill for many Bills fans to swallow. Phillips, the man who calmly followed Hall of Famer Marv Levy, coached the Bills three seasons (1998-00), producing a 29-19 record with two trips to the playoffs. He was at the helm the last time Buffalo made the postseason in 1999.
In a bit of symmetry, Phillips was also the opposing team's head coach the last time a Monday night game took place in Buffalo, a 27-20 win over Denver on Sept. 26, 1994.
When it comes to his quarterbacks, Bills coach Dick Jauron is playing it coy. But he has left the door wide open for Losman to be benched when he does get healthy. Losman has 26 career starts for the Bills but struggled mightily in this season's first two games. Edwards completed 22 of 28 passes against the Jets and set a team record for completion percentage (78.57) by a quarterback making his debut.
"Any position on our team is up for grabs, it always is," Jauron said. "The best guy will be the guy who plays. Other than that, there's not a lot to say about that position (quarterback) right now. J.P.'s not even able to practice."
He is able to think and speak and he left no doubt that he's worried about his job. Two years ago, he was benched twice in favor of Kelly Holcomb before starting every game last season.
"In this league? Of course," he said. "I've seen everything possible pretty much just in my short time in Buffalo. I guess as far as a player goes with an injury, you always want to get back in there as soon as possible. It's every player's fear to get injured and have some kind of controversy over something like that."
Edwards, 23, is steering clear of saying anything controversial and is focused on the Cowboys and the big stage of prime time.
"As clichi as this is, I am going to just keep trying to do my job," he said. "I know I still have a lot to learn. I have a lot ahead of me. But the limited knowledge I have of this game and the way I play this position, I'm going to just keep trying to do that and keep doing what I'm coached to do. I'm just going to try to set all of that other stuff aside and just try to help these other 10 guys on the offensive side keep moving the ball."
Dallas presents a monumental challenge for a Bills team feeling better about itself after beating the Jets, 17-14, but still reeling from injuries. Fourteen players remain out, including eight on season-ending injured reserve.
The Cowboys have rocketed out of the starting gate under the well-liked Phillips. The last time Dallas was 4-0 was 1995, when it went on to win Super Bowl XXX. The Cowboys figured to be an improved team defensively since Phillips -- an accomplished defensive coordinator -- has improved his clubs on that side of the ball at every NFL stop. True to form, Dallas sits No. 8 overall on defense, giving up just 80.5 yards rushing per game.
But where the Cowboys have really shined is on offense, where they rank No. 1 in yards (441 yards per game) and scoring (38-point average). Dallas has outscored its opponents by almost three touchdowns per game under second-year starting quarterback Tony Romo, running back Marion Barber, tight end Jason Witten, and receivers Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton.
"Four-and-0 is nice," Phillips said. "But it doesn't put us in the Super Bowl, it doesn't put us in the playoffs."
It does put you in the driver's seat and makes one a giant favorite over a team as hurting as Buffalo.
In a lively conference call with Bills beat reporters, the good-natured Phillips said his motivation Monday isn't to show up Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson, who fired him when Phillips refused to make staff changes after an 8-8 season and later tried to withhold his final pay. The two have talked at league meetings and are cordial.
But Phillips couldn't resist editorializing on his firing in Buffalo after a .500 season in 2000 in which the team almost made the playoffs: "If I remember it right, I believe (New England's) Bill Belichick was 5-11 that year and they kept him around. I don't know how he's done since then."
Phillips has a lot of respect for Jauron and his Bills, even in their beat-up state. He was San Diego's defensive coordinator last season for a close 24-21 Chargers win.
"Hey, I've been in Ralph Wilson Stadium before as an opponent and the Buffalo Bills will play well at home and I know on a Monday night," he said. "I've been on that sideline and I felt good how our players would play even if we had people hurt. I expect their best game and I'm telling our players that. We have to play our best no matter what Buffalo does. I think it's going to be a close game and a tough game."
Wide receiver Peerless Price is the only remaining Bill that played in the team's last "MNF" game overall -- a 44-20 loss at Indianapolis in 2000 when Phillips was coach.
"Everybody's going to be jacked up," Price said. "The fans are ready now, they're talking about tailgating starting on Sunday. It's good for the city to finally get a Monday night game back here."
For the record, Edwards was 10 years old and growing up in California when the Bills played their last home Monday night game against Denver.
"It was soccer season so I was probably at soccer practice (when the game came on)," Edwards said.
SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting, Cowboys lead 6-3, including two decisive victories in Super Bowl XXVII (52-17 in 1993) and Super Bowl XXVIII (30-13 in 1994). The Bills are 2-1 at home against Dallas, including a 14-3 upset in November 1984. The Bills were 0-11 entering that game and the Cowboys were 7-4 and the loss cost them a playoff berth. Dallas is 2-0 against the Bills on "Monday Night Football."
--The Bills will dip into the karma -- if there is any -- by wearing their throwback uniforms from their 1965 AFL championship season for Monday's game. The Bills have a 7-2 record at home against undefeated opponents (minimum four victories). Buffalo's last nine Monday night appearances have all been on the road with their last home game being a 27-20 victory over Denver in 1994. The team's overall Monday night record is 17-20.
--Buffalo TEs Michael Gaines (four catches, 20 yards, 1 TD) and Robert Royal (3-31) combined for seven catches in last week's win over the Jets. How many games had it been since a pair of Bills tight ends combined for this many catches? Try 80. Jay Riemersma (4-46) and Dave Moore (3-38, 1 TD) did it on Sept. 29, 2002 in a victory over Chicago. Gaines, the former Carolina Panther who joined the team after Kevin Everett's spinal injury, has a knack for scoring TDs in football games played in Buffalo. "Here's the crazy thing," he said. "In college (at Central Florida), we came to Buffalo and I scored a touchdown vs. U.B. (University of Buffalo). I came here with Carolina and scored the game-winning touchdown (in 2005). Then I scored (last Sunday). That's three. I kind of like playing in Buffalo."
--It took Mario Haggans five NFL seasons to earn his first start; it came last week against the Jets (the Bills actually opened in nickel before Haggan came in with the regular package). Injuries to Keith Ellison, Coy Wire and Paul Posluszny afforded Haggan his break and he took advantage of it, playing a solid game that included a tackle of Thomas Jones for a three-yard loss on a big third-and-one play in the third quarter. Free agent Leon Joe was expected to start at one of the OLB spots, but Haggan got the nod. "Coach (Perry) Fewell came in (the night before) and told me I had prepared very well mentally and had a great week of practice and he felt I deserved a chance to start," said Haggan, who at 6-3, 263 gives the Bills some needed bulk. "It was definitely a blessing for me, I prayed about it and God gave me a good game." Ellison, out since the start of the year with a high-ankle sprain, could return to his position against Dallas.
--The Bills have a one-week roster exemption on DE Anthony Hargrove, who has served his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. They have until Monday to make a move. Hargrove practiced on Wednesday and it's likely he'll play against Dallas, provided he shows good progress throughout the weekend. "Not everybody gets to play the game and not everybody gets a second chance," Hargrove said. "Fortunately I'm with a great organization and they believe in me and I don't want to let them down. I've got another chance and I'm going to make the best of it." Hargrove's off-field problems aren't totally behind him. He has another court appearance scheduled in Rochester, N.Y., next week to resolve his arrest outside a nightclub during training camp in which he scuffled with police. Coach Dick Jauron said he's pleased with how Hargrove has responded to his second chance. "Yes, to the extent of the information I have," he said. "We're pulling for him. He's a very likeable guy and a guy you want things to go well for. We're very much in his corner but he's also aware that everybody is watching him and he's got to perform, on the field and off the field."
--DE Chris Kelsay, on the state of the Bills' morale after a much-needed win over the Jets: "Anytime you can finish with your offense on the field for the final snap, it's a huge boost. Despite everything that has happened, I think this shows the true character of the team. We stick together and you don't hear any bickering out of us. We fought hard and it's really good to get rewarded."
BY THE NUMBERS: 14 -- The difference in touchdowns scored by the Cowboys vs. the Bills this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There were times during the football season where it crossed my mind. It didn't necessarily happen during the game, but he's a guy that's been pretty influential in my life as well as other coaches I've had in my career. There were a couple of coaches that I called this past week wishing me good luck as well as some other friends and family. There are a lot of things that you learn from coaches that you take with you when you do perform in games that are very, very valuable that you may not be able to express in words what they were, but will always stay with you no matter what." -- QB Trent Edwards, on whether he thought of the late Bill Walsh, the Hall of Fame coach of the San Francisco 49ers and one of his mentors, during last week's game against the Jets.
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