Time and again
Flutie works his magic -- again -- to beat Bills 27-24
Updated: Monday October 29, 2001 1:35 AM
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- With the ball in Doug Flutie's hands, his San Diego teammates thought they couldn't lose.
The Chargers, trailing by four points in their grudge match against the Buffalo Bills, knew they were about to win.
Flutie proved there's still magic left in his 39-year-old body, scoring on a 13-yard dash with 1:10 remaining to give the Chargers a 27-24 victory Sunday.
"He's not Irish, but he's a leprechaun. He's just that great," said defensive end Marcellus Wiley, who like Flutie joined an offseason migration of former Bills to San Diego. "He's unreal. I was over there crying because, here we go with this magic, this drama, and he brought it to us."
The victory wasn't sealed until Ed Ellis blocked Jake Arians' 44-yard field-goal attempt with 7 seconds left. But it was Flutie's play that kept Buffalo from giving its owner the win he so badly wanted against a Chargers franchise loaded with ex-Bills.
After the Bills went ahead 24-20 on rookie Travis Henry's 3-yard run, Ronney Jenkins returned the kickoff 72 yards. Another 13 yards were tacked on because of a taunting call against Buffalo's Brian Moorman.
On the first play from scrimmage, Flutie dropped back to pass but the pocket began to collapse. Phil Hansen got a hand on Flutie, but he broke free and scrambled toward the end zone, diving in for the go-ahead score as the towel-waving crowd of 63,698 went wild.
"I didn't have anything," Flutie said. "All of a sudden I felt pressure, ducked under it and was still on my feet, and knew it was time to take off."
After celebrating, Flutie felt relief.
"I'm just glad it's over," he said. "Too many headaches."
Flutie beat his nemesis, Rob Johnson. The two feuded as Bills teammates for three seasons before Flutie was cut last Feb. 28.
Bills owner Ralph Wilson said last spring that he'd rather beat the Chargers this year than win the Super Bowl.
Wilson was angry because John Butler surfaced as San Diego's general manager 17 days after he was fired as Buffalo's GM last winter. Butler brought four other front-office employees with him and signed Flutie, Wiley and linebackers Sam Rogers and John Holecek as free agents.
After the game, Wilson praised Johnson, but downplayed the grudge-match angle.
"I thought he played the best game he's ever had," Wilson said of Johnson. "We just came out on the short end. I am not going to second-guess anything."
Butler was relieved, too.
"The thing I'm glad about now, the Buffalo Bills of the West, aren't any more. They're Chargers," Butler said. "They came out here to be Chargers and they've been fighting as Chargers."
Johnson led the Bills (1-5) on a 68-yard drive in the closing minutes. Henry scored with 1:30 to go, breaking the plane as he lay on a pile of blockers. Instant replay upheld the call, and the Bills kicked off with a 24-20 lead.
But there was still enough time for the Chargers (5-2) and Flutie, who turned 39 on Tuesday.
"There's still something special with that drive to win," Butler said about Flutie, the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner who's in his 17th season of pro football.
Flutie and Johnson shook hands during the pre-game coin toss. "It was very professional," Flutie said. "He even made eye contact."
Said Johnson: "We just don't get along personally, that's all. I respect him professionally."
Wiley, who had two sacks and forced a fumble, called Flutie the Chargers' "X-factor."
"I don't care if he's short or if you think he's cocky," Wiley said, mentioning things that have been held against Flutie. "He's the man. He went out there today and proved it."
Flutie also threw a touchdown pass, finishing 21-of-33 for 254 yards and no interceptions. Johnson, knocked out of the game briefly in the third quarter, was 24-of-37 for 310 yards and one TD, with one interception. He also scored on a 1-yard keeper in the first half.
Jason Perry intercepted Johnson early in the fourth quarter and returned it 37 yards for a TD and a 20-10 lead.
Johnson came right back, though, and threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Peerless Price to pull the Bills to 20-17.
San Diego's Wade Richey was wide right on a 41-yard field goal try with 6:36 left.
Notes: Flutie kept the ball after his run, just his sixth NFL rushing touchdown. ... Chargers star LB Junior Seau sat out much of the fourth quarter as a precaution because of a week-old groin injury. But he returned on Buffalo's final drive. ... Chargers DBs Rodney Harrison and Ryan McNeil, and RB LaDainian Tomlinson were injured during the game, but returned.