Originally created 09/07/98

Chargers top Bills in close one



SAN DIEGO -- The fans got one more quarterback debut than they expected.

Doug Flutie, looking more like a spry rookie than a 35-year-old, came off the bench after Rob Johnson got hurt and nearly rallied the Buffalo Bills to victory over rookie Ryan Leaf and the San Diego Chargers.

John Carney's 54-yard field goal, which bounced off the left upright and went through with 4:30 to play, gave the Chargers a wild 16-14 win Sunday in Leaf's first game as quarterback.

Flutie, making his first NFL appearance in this decade after eight years in the Canadian Football League, drove the Bills to the Chargers 21, only to watch in disappointment as Steve Christie was wide left on a 39-yard field-goal attempt with three seconds left. Christie also shanked a 21-yard attempt early in the fourth quarter.

Bills players were stunned, some throwing themselves on the ground. The Chargers almost couldn't believe that their ugly eight-game losing streak was over. The missed kick also spoiled the debut of coach Wade Phillips, who was promoted from defensive coordinator after Marv Levy retired.

Leaf, the second pick in April's draft, had a mixed debut. He completed 16 of 31 passes for 192 yards and one touchdown, but was intercepted twice by safety Henry Jones. Two more pickoffs by the Bills were called back on penalties, including one by Manny Martin when Jones was called for roughing the passer.

That gave San Diego a first down at the Buffalo 39, and four plays later, Carney matched his career-best of 54 yards, set seven years ago.

Carney, who missed the last 12 games of 1997 with a knee injury, also kicked field goals of 48 and 47 yards.

Flutie's entrance seemed almost surreal. Johnson, a native Southern Californian making his Bills debut and just his second NFL start, was knocked out of the game when he was leveled after throwing an incompletion on the Bills' first play of the second half. He was taken into the locker room to have his chin stitched.

Flutie, in his third and perhaps final NFL chance, turned in an incredible performance, including touchdown passes of 43 and 5 yards to Andre Reed. He also ran twice for first downs.

Flutie's third pass was intercepted by Dwayne Harper, but he came right back and threw a 43-yard TD pass to Reed, who faked out Harper, to pull the Bills to 10-7. One play earlier, Harper was called for pass interference.

Flutie gained 3 yards on what appeared to be a busted third-and-1 play from the Chargers' 22. Five plays later, he threaded a 5-yard touchdown pass through traffic to Reed, who was hit by a linebacker and a safety before being sandwiched in the end zone by two defensive backs. Reed held on, giving Buffalo a 14-13 lead with 9:05 to play.

Flutie was 12-of-20 for 158 yards, while Reed had seven catches for 94 yards.

Leaf hooked up with third-year receiver Bryan Still on a 6-yard pass early in the second quarter, the first TD pass for each player. That gave San Diego a 10-0 lead. Still caught six passes for 128 yards.

The Bills had only 104 yards at halftime, but Flutie moved them 138 yards in the third quarter alone.

The Chargers, who had an NFL-low 27 sacks last year, finished with five, two by safety Rodney Harrison.

Bruce Smith, who missed all of the exhibition season because of offseason arthroscopic knee surgery, was inactive, as was running back Thurman Thomas (thigh injury).

Carney kicked a 48-yard field goal for the only scoring in the first half, when both teams looked shaky.