Doug Flutie's solid performance will force the Bills to make a
tough call when Rob Johnson returns from injury
Asked last Thursday about a percolating quarterback controversy
involving him and erstwhile starter Rob Johnson, the Bills' Doug
Flutie tried hard to seem every bit the good soldier. "I know
that no matter what I do, I won't be the starter for this team,"
he said, his face grim and emotionless. "I'll play only when Rob
However, in Buffalo's 23-20 last-play victory over the AFC East
rival Jets--a win that helped the Bills (4-4) claw their way back
into the crowded AFC playoff picture--Flutie made his third
consecutive inspired appearance in place of the injured Johnson,
connecting on 18 of 35 passes for 253 yards without an
interception. From his timely scrambles to his calming sideline
influence, Flutie has the offense humming.
While Bills players refuse to take sides in the debate--publicly,
at least--it is apparent the 38-year-old Flutie provides a spark
that the 27-year-old Johnson does not. "There's no question we're
a different team with Doug in there," said one Bills offensive
player. "All Doug thinks about is helping the team win and how he
can do that. Rob seems distracted by things, like wanting
everyone to like him."
Several Bills believe Johnson holds the ball too long due to an
obsession with making the big strike. Others speculate that he is
reluctant to attempt throws that might hurt his quarterback
rating. "He'd rather get pummeled by four guys than throw the
ball away," said another Bill.
Whatever Johnson's motivation, his inability to avoid the sack is
all the more evident when compared with Flutie's elusiveness. In
16 games with the Bills, Johnson has been sacked 55 times in 381
dropbacks, or once every 6.9 attempts; in his 32 games, Flutie
has been sacked 41 times in 919 dropbacks--once every 23.4
attempts. Moreover, Johnson's hesitancy in the pocket has been a
hazard to his health. Before going down with a separated right
shoulder in overtime of a win over the Chargers on Oct. 15, he
was on pace to be sacked a whopping 67 times this season. The San
Diego game marked the sixth time in 14 career starts with Buffalo
that he had been knocked out of a game.
The Bills traded first- and fourth-round draft picks to the
Jaguars in February 1998 for the cannon-armed Johnson, at the
time a 24-year-old with seemingly limitless potential. When
Johnson was knocked out of three of Buffalo's first five games
that year, though, Flutie seized the opportunity, leading the
team to victory in eight of its next 11 games and into the
post-season. He was at the helm for the first 15 games again last
year, but with the Bills locked into a wild-card spot, the
coaching staff decided to rest Flutie for the regular-season
finale against the Colts. After Johnson threw for 287 yards and a
pair of touchdowns, coach Wade Phillips surprised everyone by
naming him the starter for the following week's playoff game at
"When he's in there, Rob puts up some great numbers," says
Phillips. "We benefit from Doug's experience and his leadership,
but for Rob to develop those things, he's got to play."
Certainly Buffalo's shaky line and punchless running attack (a
20th-ranked 105.6 yards a game) make for problems either
quarterback must overcome. Perhaps an even bigger hurdle is the
erratic play-calling of offensive coordinator Joe Pendry, who
made numerous questionable decisions inside the red zone against
the Jets. When he called for a fade route to wideout Eric Moulds
on first-and-goal from the New York one-foot line midway through
the fourth quarter of a tie game, several offensive players swore
loudly and repeatedly until just before the ball was snapped.
(Moulds was called for pass interference, moving the ball back to
the 11, and Buffalo settled for a field goal and a 20-17 lead.)
Still, Flutie shone with the game on the line. Scrambling away
from pressure and demonstrating a knack for coming through in the
clutch, he drove the Bills 57 yards in 11 plays over the final
2:20, including a 17-yard pass to wideout Peerless Price on a
third-and-10, to set up Steve Christie's 34-yard game-winning
field goal. Flutie will probably have one or perhaps two more
starts (at New England, then home against Chicago) before Johnson
is ready to play. Phillips has remained coy about his plans, even
saying he envisions scenarios in which both quarterbacks could
see playing time in the same game.
But when asked Thursday about his preference of Johnson as his
starter, Phillips huffed a weary sigh. "Look, I've been making
decisions like this for 25 years," he said. "It's not like I'm
back there just flipping some coin. It was nothing personal with
Doug. I mean, if it we're talking personal, I'd want Doug as my
Colts Wideout on a Roll
Harrison Finally Getting His Due
Late in the second quarter of the Colts' 30-18 win over the
Lions, Detroit cornerback Bryant Westbrook had a few words for
Indianapolis All-Pro wide receiver Marvin Harrison. "He told me,
'I don't know what you're doing, but we need to stop you,'"
Harrison said after helping his team improve to 6-2. "I told him
just because I was having a big day against them, he shouldn't
think that it hasn't happened to other people this year."
Harrison has been terrorizing defensive backs, surpassing the
100-yard receiving mark in seven of eight games this year and 11
of 13 dating back to 1999. After catching nine passes for 109
yards against the Lions, he has 962 receiving yards this season.
At that pace, he'll finish with 1,924 yards, breaking Jerry
Rice's record of 1,848, set in 1995.
The Lions took a conservative approach against Harrison.
Westbrook, Detroit's best cover cornerback, usually played seven
to eight yards off the line, hoping to prevent the big play.
(Four of Harrison's seven touchdown grabs have been 50 yards or
longer.) As a result, Harrison did most of his damage with short
receptions, notably a catch late in the first half with the Colts
facing a third-and-10 from their own 41.
With Westbrook and free safety Kurt Schulz providing double
coverage, Harrison split the defenders and turned a short pass
from Peyton Manning into a 29-yard gain. Six plays later Manning
hit tight end Ken Dilger with a 12-yard scoring pass to make the
score 23-0. "You're not supposed to make that catch against that
defense," Manning said, "but Marvin made the play."
"He's the only receiver I've seen who comes out of his breaks at
full speed," Westbrook says. "All his routes look the same. If
he's running a go route, it looks like his curl route. His speed
and control are great."
Harrison earned his first Pro Bowl invitation last season after
catching 115 passes for 1,663 yards. In his eyes, however, he has
been Pro Bowl-caliber since he entered the league as the 19th
choice in the 1996 draft, which included receivers such as the
Bucs' Keyshawn Johnson (the No. 1 pick), the Patriots' Terry
Glenn (No. 7) and the Bills' Eric Moulds (No. 24). Harrison has
more career receptions (369), yardage (5,103) and touchdowns (40)
than any of those three.
"I've been doing the same things as everyone else, both when I
was in college [at Syracuse] and in the NFL, but I've never
gotten the notice," says Harrison, who admits that at the Pro
Bowl older receivers like the Jaguars' Jimmy Smith and the
Vikings' Cris Carter did sing his praises. "I just keep doing the
job day in and day out. Maybe things will change when I start
showing up in commercials."
Those within the Colts organization cite Harrison's work ethic as
the major reason he has become a star. ("He does the most to get
the maximum out of an extremely talented body," says team
president Bill Polian.) Harrison prefers to spread the credit. He
points first to Manning, with whom he has spent the last two
off-seasons perfecting pass routes and other fine points of the
aerial game. On their three-yard touchdown hookup on a
third-and-goal with 6:26 to go in the second quarter against
Detroit, Manning read the defense and flashed a hand signal to
Harrison right before throwing a fade route.
Harrison also points to offensive coordinator Tom Moore, who
moves him around to different spots to try to avoid double
coverage. "There are two ways to get the big play," Moore says.
"You can throw it short and let a guy run or you can throw it
deep. We've done both with Marvin." --Jeffri Chadiha
The Return of Bud Carson
Rams Defense Shows Spunk
When the Rams hired him as a defensive consultant the day before
their visit to Kansas City on Oct. 22, Bud Carson eschewed
watching the game, choosing instead to break down film of the
49ers, St. Louis's next opponent. That was a wise move. Seeing
his new charges surrender 54 points to the Chiefs would not have
been healthy for a 69-year-old man two weeks removed from an
But judging by the Rams' 34-24 win over San Francisco, the hiring
of Carson--the architect of Pittsburgh's "Steel Curtain" of the
1970s and St. Louis's defensive coordinator in 1997--might well
prove to be coach Mike Martz's wisest move yet. Playing against
the league's fourth-ranked offense, the Rams' defense turned in
what was easily its most inspired effort of the year,
particularly in the second half when, down 17-14, it held the
Niners to 124 yards and six first downs. "It's a change in
attitude, and Bud Carson was instrumental in that," said St.
Louis defensive tackle D'Marco Farr. "In our defensive meetings,
he told us right away, 'We're going to go after them.' He told us
we were going to get back to being an attacking defense, and
having fun. And we did have fun."
Martz called the win over San Francisco the Rams' best
regular-season performance in the last two years, and while that
may be an exaggeration, there was a hard kernel of truth to his
statement. St. Louis won with backup quarterback Trent Green
subbing for the injured Kurt Warner. More important, a defense
that had stopped nobody in its first seven games suddenly came to
After the drubbing by Kansas City, the Rams ranked 28th in the
league in defense, having given up an average of 365.3 yards per
game. They had also surrendered 32.6 points a game and 6.7 yards
per play, both league worsts. Martz was so fed up that he demoted
two underachieving Pro Bowl players: end Kevin Carter, last
season's NFL sack leader, and cornerback Todd Lyght. After a
midweek tirade by Carter, the ever-blunt Carson backed Martz on
the benchings, saying of Carter, "He's not the same player I
Still uncertain is the fate of defensive coordinator Peter
Giunta, who worked with Carson in Philadelphia during the early
'90s and whose status, at least formally, has not changed. Carson
has tried to dispel any controversy. "I'm new here," he said on
Sunday. "I didn't have anything to do with it. Peter and those
guys did a nice job."
Send your pro football questions for Peter King's mailbag and
read more from Paul Zimmerman at cnnsi.com/football.
Morten Anderson is a lock for the Hall of Fame, but his days in
Atlanta could be numbered. He kicked the game-winning 31-yard
field goal in the Falcons' 13-12 victory over Carolina on Sunday,
but earlier he had missed from 46 and 42 yards, and those misses
drew harsh criticism from coach Dan Reeves. The 40-year-old
Anderson made his first five kicks this season but is just 11 of
17 since. Another reason for Anderson, who is in the last year of
his contract, to worry: Atlanta is the only team in the league
with a kicker on its practice squad....
The Raiders' 15-13 defeat of the Chargers marked the fifth time
this season that a team had won without scoring a touchdown....
Terrell Owens may be remembered best for his idiotic taunts on
Sept. 24 in Dallas, but the Niners wideout is emerging as one of
the NFL's top receivers. Against the Rams he caught eight passes
for 115 yards and two scores. It was his fourth
multiple-touchdown game of the season. In eight games he has 57
catches for 808 yards and 11 touchdowns....
The season-ending foot injury to running back Duce Staley
continues to haunt the Eagles. In their 24-7 loss to the Giants,
Philly running backs rushed a grand total of seven times for 15
yards, with only one attempt coming after halftime. Quarterback
Donovan McNabb still isn't good enough to carry the team, which
is exactly what Philly is asking of the second-year player by
having him throw two thirds of the time....
At 3-5 the Cowboys are off to their worst start since 1990, the
year after they traded Herschel Walker to the Vikings for a slew
of draft picks and lesser players.