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CENTERS AVOIDS DEFEATIST ATTITUDE

Larry Centers isn't proud of it. Given a choice, he'd much rather have played on a succession of Super Bowl contenders. But he spent most of his 12-year NFL career in Arizona, so he has spent a lot of time playing for losers.

Centers has been around. He has made Pro Bowls. He has caught more passes than any running back in history. He knows how losing feels. He knows it when he sees it. He can recognize the look on a player's face when adversity hits. He understands that players can become comfortable with losing, and that defeat, like victory, can become an attitude.

This is his first year in Buffalo, but he is a veteran on a young team. From the moment he arrived, Centers hasn't hesitated to speak his mind. And after Sunday's debacle in Indianapolis, it was clear that he is concerned about this Bills team, and about the way it crumpled in its two opening defeats.

"For me, it's extremely disappointing," Centers said an hour after Sunday's 42-26 thrashing at the hands of the Colts. "I don't know if I can find the words to describe just how disappointing these first two games have been for me, after having such high expectations coming into this season. To start off in such a bad way is . . . it's terrible."

You can rationalize it any way you like, but the fact is the Bills have lost by 18 and 16 points, and the loss to the Colts wasn't as close as the final score suggests. The offense was horrendous in the opener. The defense was humiliated in the second game. From halftime of the opener through halftime of Sunday's debacle, the Bills gave up 59 points.

Granted, they played a couple of top contenders. New Orleans is among the top defenses in the league and Indianapolis has perhaps the finest offense. The worst stretch of the schedule is behind the Bills. Playing back-to-back home games against average opponents like Pittsburgh and the Jets could help them pull together and begin to show progress.

"At the same time, everybody in this league is good," Centers said. "I think we're a good football team. We're just not showing it right now. There's a lot of talking going on in practice all week. But we have to understand you do your talking through your actions on Sunday."

Something tells me Centers will be a good coach some day. He wouldn't use the tough opening schedule as an excuse. He didn't want to hear about injuries, or the crowd noise at the RCA Dome. He's lost his share over the years. He knows you don't win with excuses.

There was no excuse for the Bills' lack of discipline Sunday. Getting picked apart by Peyton Manning is one thing. But committing a team-record 19 penalties was alarming.

It was no secret that this team had average talent. You knew they'd suffer some lumps along the way. Losing is understandable. Losing your poise is another thing entirely. Players lined up in the neutral zone Sunday; they got caught with too many men on the field; veterans such as Ruben Brown and Peerless Price lost their cool.

The Bills have played two games, and both times they melted down when adversity struck. They allowed it to snowball into embarrassment. The defense looked young and confused and over its head.

"We'll find out who our real football players, who our real pros are, by watching the tape," Centers said. "When you're down 42 to whatever we were down, that's the time the coaching staff has to go look at the film and dissect it. Find out who your real football players are. Find out where your heart is on this football team."

That sounds like a leader talking. I assume that's one of the reasons the Bills brought him here. When the bad times came, they knew it would help to have a guy who had looked defeat in the face many times before.

This young team could go either way right now. The Bills can choose to defy adversity, or to accept losing. I think what Centers is suggesting is that it's never too early to separate the real pros from the losers.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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