The Bills hate the prospect of playing a game without Terrence McGee, their most experienced and most physical cornerback, particularly when the opponent this Sunday is the high-flying if mistake-prone Arizona Cardinals.
But the Cardinals are likely to be without dynamic wide receiver Anquan Boldin, leveling the playing field.
Boldin, whose 119 yards against the New York Jets last week gave him a franchise-record 23 career 100-yard games, is still battling the aftereffects of a vicious blow to the head delivered in the end zone by New York's Eric Smith.
The hit landed Smith a $50,000 fine and one-game suspension. Boldin was hospitalized but is feeling much better, but probably not well enough to play this weekend. He has facial injuries and the Cardinals are still checking him out for a possible post-hit concussion.
As for McGee, he is a nursing a sprained left knee ligament and did not practice Wednesday. He was wearing a brace and limped noticeably. Coach Dick Jauron would not rule him out of the game, and McGee said "I haven't given up hope yet." But it's not likely he'd suit up.
The Bills (4-0) head into their bye after this game, meaning McGee would have a solid three weeks to get healthy for the Oct. 19 showdown against San Diego at Ralph Wilson Stadium. That game is a statement game for Buffalo, which so far hasn't beaten a team with a winning record.
The first order of business, though -- meeting the Cardinals (2-2) on the road and slowing down quarterback Kurt Warner and a receiving corps that's still plenty talented even without Boldin.
Larry Fitzgerald (24 catches, 415 yards, two TDs, 16 career 100-yard games) and Steve Breaston, who had a career-best nine receptions for 122 yards in last Sunday's 56-35 shootout loss to the Jets, along with running backs Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower, give Buffalo plenty to worry about.
With McGee hobbled, players stepping into the spotlight are third-year pro Ashton Youboty and rookie first-round pick Leodis McKelvin.
"Those two are very young corners," coach Dick Jauron said. "Ashton has played more this year than he has his previous two years and he's done a real nice job to this point. This team is so talented in their receiving corps and really in a lot of positions on their side of the ball. Everybody knows about their receiving corps, so it'll be a big challenge if Terrence can't go for both of those guys."
McKelvin likely will get the start with Youboty on the field plenty in the nickel role he has filled so well this year.
McKelvin has already assumed primary kickoff return duties from McGee, Buffalo's career leader in that role.
"You never know when a guy might go down and you're one play away from getting in the game," McKelvin said. "I've just been getting myself prepared and you just have to step up from where you came from."
The Bills like that McKelvin hasn't backed down from any challenge and whatever mistakes he's made, they've been the good kind: aggressive. Last week against St. Louis, he put a jolting hit on Dane Looker, forced a fumble and recovered it. Now comes facing someone like Fitzgerald that he's seen from afar on TV.
"I watched him in college and I watched him when I was growing up," McKelvin said. "He's been in the league for about five years and he has more experience than me. Basically, I'm just going to go in there and play my technique and play my heart out. I'm just going to go in there and be relentless. If he catches the ball in front of me, I'll just go up and tackle him and do my best."
While he doesn't have McGee's experience, McKelvin gives Buffalo a bigger body in its secondary against the 6-3 Fitzgerald. The Troy College product is 5-10, 192 pounds.
And while McGee's injury is accelerating his assimilation into the pro game, Roscoe Parrish's thumb injury that will sideline him at least another three weeks has given McKelvin punt return opportunities as well.
The Bills are getting mileage out of their top rookie. As it should be.
"He's getting more and more comfortable with how we do things, but it's kind of how he played in college," Jauron said. "He's an aggressive guy. He likes to get involved in all of the aspects of it. He'll cover you and try to shut you down, he wants to make the tackle. He'll come hard at the ball, he'll tackle you and he'll hit you. We really like him. In the return game, he's got that speed that is smooth, but you can see it, it's visible. He can outrun some angles of tacklers. Again, we just think he's a guy that's going to get better and better."
As for taking advantage offensively of Arizona's reeling secondary, which was torched for six touchdowns by the Jets' Brett Favre, Buffalo hopes to get more contributions from rookie second-round pick James Hardy.
Hardy, playing more in place of Parrish, had four balls thrown his way last week but couldn't make a catch. Veterans Lee Evans and Josh Reed continue to play well, as is quarterback Trent Edwards.
"We're always going to miss Roscoe; he's got skill sets that not a lot of people have," Jauron said. "We look forward to him getting back, but in the meantime, these guys will get more opportunities and I believe they'll step up and perform."
On Hardy's struggles: "I'm happy with what he's doing and how he's doing it. I believe he's getting better. The great news is that we are, at this young part of the season, we're still 4-0. If he can keep learning and advancing as we're winning, that would be terrific."