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If Marv Levy were still the coach of the Buffalo Bills, he might have chosen Monday as a perfect time to polish off one of his favorite bromides: Adversity is an opportunity for heroism.

That isn't exactly what Wade Phillips said to his troops as they began preparation for the supernova that is the San Francisco 49ers. But it was close.

"He told us we've got the best team in the league coming in, and this is really what we need at 0-3," said safety Henry Jones. "He said it's a great opportunity for us to get this thing rolling, and what better way to do it than by knocking off the best team in the league?"

"If we get this win," added quarterback Rob Johnson, "it would kind of erase our bad start and get us going."

On the surface, it would seem the 3-0 49ers are the last thing the Bills need right now. They have scored 36, 45 and 31 points in their three games. They are averaging 533 yards a game. They are ranked No. 1 in the NFL in rushing, passing and total offense.

"Nobody's even slowing them down," Phillips said. "Their offense is playing better than I've ever seen them play."

That is saying something, especially when you consider Phillips was the defensive coordinator in Denver when the 49ers beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl, 55-10.

So the 49ers are hot. The thinking among the Bills Monday was that Sunday's game gives them the chance to get excited about the quality of the opponent rather than to dwell on all the things that have gone wrong the first three games of the season.

"I think you prepare better when you know you're playing somebody really good," Phillips said. "I think it's probably better for us at this time. . . . At this point we need to prepare hard and get better."

Bring 'em on, said Thurman Thomas.

"Nobody in this locker room is intimidated because they're 3-0 and we're 0-3," Thomas said. "We know it's been our mistakes that have killed us. We know we have to play almost a perfect game against them. But we're not saying they can't be beat, because they can be beat. They do have some weaknesses."

"We are 0-3, but we're not an 0-3 football team," said cornerback Ken Irvin. "We have to prove we're a good team and we're capable of playing with a high-powered team like San Francisco. We're all looking forward to redeeming ourselves from last week."

The Bills, of course, don't have everything going against them this week. They will be playing in front of a sold-out home crowd.

They also have a preparation advantage. The Bills are coming off a bye week and went through a 2-hour, 10-minute workout Monday. Normally, they just watch film on Mondays.

"We had two days of practice last week on San Francisco and we spent today on San Francisco, and we haven't even started our normal practice week yet," said defensive end Phil Hansen. "So we've had three extra days on them. It's just good to play again after three losses. We've been sitting on it and pondering it for a week."

Then there's the travel factor. San Francisco will be making the cross-country trip, normally considered a hardship in the NFL. The 49ers, however, handle it better than any other team. In the last 15 years, they have a 44-15 record (a .746 winning percentage) when playing in the Eastern time zone.

"We have a good challenge ahead of us," said Jones.

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