ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It didn't take long for the Buffalo Bills to get their Super Bowl wakeup call.
At 7:30 yesterday morning, linebacker Carlton Bailey already was engaged in a television debate with Redskins defensive end Charles Mann. And Bailey was stunned when Mann used the "Today" show to dismiss Buffalo's defense.
"He said it, 'Well, you know, you guys don't have a good defense,' " Bailey was saying in the Bills' locker room yesterday. "Charles Mann said it'll be a high-scoring game [for the Redskins], like 34 points."
This made Bailey "feel pretty bad." Not an emotion he expected so soon after scoring the Bills' only TD in the 10-7 AFC championship win over Denver. Mann's assessment was even more difficult to take considering Buffalo had shut out Denver for XTC the first 58 minutes Sunday.
"It showed me they don't have much respect for our defense -- and he's a defensive ballplayer," Bailey said, shaking his head. "No telling how their offense feels."
But Bailey shook off the sting long enough to issue a warning to the Skins: "I'm not one to talk junk in the papers, but come Jan. 26, there will be a lot of hitting going on. And the team that has the most warriors left standing will be the team that wins."
The Bills are convinced their ranking as the NFL's 27th defense is fraudulent. So many of the yards they gave up were without All-Pro defensive end Bruce Smith and nose tackle Jeff Wright. And their defense spends more time on the field than most, since the no-huddle offense gets on and off so quickly.
"Yes, we gave up more yards than we'd like to, and yes, we're not ranked where we'd like to be," strong safety Leonard Smith said. "But the bottom line is we didn't break."
The Bills have long had a chip on their shoulder when it comes to defense with all the attention paid to Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and James Lofton.
Left tackle Will Wolford said: "Last year we beat the Raiders [51-3] and everyone in the country said, 'Oh, the Bills are unbeatable.' This week, people will say, 'They pulled one out with defense.' I like that.
"It's the old cliche that defense wins championships. I sure hope so, because we're taking a very good defense to Minneapolis."
Bailey, a graduate of Woodlawn High, contends that Mann's self-confidence is a reflection of the NFC's superiority complex. And why not? The NFC has whipped the AFC in seven straight Super Bowls.
"They think they're the big, tough bad guys," Bailey said. "They have this mystique that the NFC is supposed to be the toughest and the AFC doesn't play as good a brand of football. That's the image and how they feel."