elvin Carver, in his first NFL start, scored two touchdowns today but threw a scare into his own team, Tampa Bay, as the Buccaneers sustained their playoff hopes by defeating the Buffalo Bills, 24-23.

Carver's coaches have been trying to break him of the habit of laying the ball down quickly upon being tackled, but he did it at the Tampa Bay 18 with 24 seconds to play. As he jumped to his feet, a Buffalo player had the ball and the Bills were leaping for joy, thinking Carver had returned the favor a few moments after they had fumbled away a chance at a winning field goal.

Officials ruled, though, that Carver had been down and the ball was dead. The Bucs ran out the clock.

"I generally lay the ball down and jump up real quick," said Carver, who gained 89 yards on 20 carries. "I'll never do it again."

"He learned his lesson," echoed Coach John McKay.

Buffalo was well within kicker Efren Herrera's range, until defensive end Lee Roy Selmon caused Bills fullback Roosevelt Leaks to fumble and Cedric Brown recovered for the Buccaneers at the Tampa Bay 18 with 36 seconds to play.

With Herrera denied a chance to atone for a missed extra point in the first quarter, Tampa advanced to 3-4 in the NFC and dropped the AFC Bills to 4-3.

Carver scored on a two-yard pass from Doug Williams and a 13-yard run.

Leaks ran for two Buffalo touchdowns. Quarterback Joe Ferguson pulled the Bills within one point on a 10-yard touchdown run with just over four minutes to go.

Herrera failed to convert after Leaks scored on the game's opening series.

A 25-yard pass interference penalty against Bills safety Bill Simpson led to Bill Capece's field goal for a 10-9 Tampa edge as the first half expired. Simpson atoned with a third-quarter interception setting up a 42-yard touchdown drive.

The Buccaneers retorted with a nine-play, 77-yard touchdown advance to go up, 17-16, and Carver's 13-yard run made it 24-16 a minute into the fourth quarter.