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Buffalo soldier

Flutie back as Bills' starter with Johnson injured

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Posted: Tuesday October 17, 2000 2:12 AM
Updated: Tuesday October 17, 2000 11:12 AM

  Doug Flutie Doug Flutie is fully recovered from a torn groin muscle that forced him to miss most of training camp. AP

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- During a bitter moment in training camp last summer, Doug Flutie eyed the large sea of No. 7 jerseys peppering the stands around him and began to wonder.

"I wish that really meant something from a playing standpoint. ... I'm sure the league and the team are making big money off of that," Flutie said sarcastically regarding his status as the Buffalo Bills then backup quarterback.

Now it's time for Flutie to begin earning his pay.

For the third time in three seasons, Flutie has reclaimed the starter's job, taking over after Rob Johnson separated his right shoulder in Sunday's 27-24 overtime win against the San Diego Chargers.

Johnson will miss two to four weeks after going down hard -- a result of a Neil Smith hit -- on the final play of the Bills opening drive in overtime.

Flutie was sent in for relief for the second consecutive week, and this time he marched the Bills 31 yards to set up Steve Christie's 46-yard game-winning field goal. The win snapped the Bills three-game losing streak and improved their record to 3-3.

If Flutie was excited about his new role, he wasn't speaking Monday. Bills officials said he was hunkered down watching film in preparation for this Sunday's game against Minnesota.

Judging by what he's been saying since relegated to No. 2 status prior to the 16th game of last season, Flutie has been itching for this opportunity.

He created more than one stir during the off-season, publicly wondering whether the Bills would have fared better in the playoffs last year with him at the helm.

Flutie was subdued following Sunday's game.

"I think I learned my lesson early on. And it's not a factor of Rob gets hurt, it's a factor of it's NFL football and the opportunity will probably be there," Flutie said. "I guess we'll just take it one game at a time. I just have to prepare and get ready."

While the Bills maintain they have confidence in Flutie or Johnson, the Chargers sensed a change on the field when Flutie took over.

"You knew he was going to come in and not make a big mistake," said San Diego's Rodney Harrison. "I was more afraid of Flutie than Rob Johnson because he has a way of making things just click. That was the spark they needed."

Although slightly bothered by a sore hip, Flutie is fully recovered from a torn groin muscle that forced him to miss most of training camp and the first four weeks of the season. He takes over a sputtering offense that lacks a consistent running attack and has failed to protect its quarterback.

Johnson has been sacked 25 times already this season and knocked out of three of six starts.

While Johnson, the AFC's fourth-rated passer, is considered a stronger thrower, Flutie has made his mark as a scrambler who can produce under pressure. Flutie won 10 games last year, and eight in 1998, taking over after Johnson went down with a rib injury.

Johnson also has a habit of holding on to the ball too long, which has contributed to the number of times he gets hit. In his 13 starts -- including playoffs -- with the Bills, Johnson has been sacked 60 times and knocked out of six of those games.

Flutie, by comparison, has been sacked 38 times in 19 games during the last three seasons, and last year set a franchise record for quarterbacks with 476 yards rushing. The big problem with Flutie last year, which led to his late-season demotion, was the fact that he threw only 19 touchdowns, but was intercepted 16 times.

Head coach Wade Phillips wouldn't totally commit to what he will do when Johnson returns.

"We have to see where we are as far as when he's healthy," Phillips said. "I said that a couple of years ago and he didn't get well for eight [or] nine weeks. But we expect him to come back and play, yes."

He added: "I don't think Rob's done anything wrong. We'd like to do better. We're still ninth in the league in offense. We have moved the football. It wasn't as good as everybody wanted it to be, I guess, and that caused some problems. But it was good enough to win and that's what we want to keep doing."

Johnson, with his arm in a sling, doesn't believe he's lost his starting job.

"I think I played well enough to at least deserve it, but you never know what's going to happen," said Johnson, who's also nursing tendinitis in his throwing elbow.

Johnson blamed the injury on the newly-replaced but still hard Ralph Wilson Stadium artificial turf.

"If it was on grass, maybe I'd have a bruised shoulder or something, not separated," he said.

Summing up his emotions, Johnson said, "It's not much you can do about it. It's frustrating."

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