Originally created 11/04/99

Buffalo's shooting star drops back to earth

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Doug Flutie's savvy and legs saved a lost season and triggered a frenzy of ticket sales that kept the Bills in Buffalo.

But Flutie has tumbled from the summit. Last season's Comeback Player of the Year has been burdened by the loss of his top receiver, a broken running game and an erratic defense.

Flutie's own dubious decisions haven't helped. He has completed 61 of 131 passes (46 percent) and thrown eight interceptions in the past three games including three in a 13-10 victory over Baltimore last week.

In the last three games, Flutie has been sacked eight times and had 39 passes deflected, including a dozen by linemen, while Buffalo's offense has converted just 12 of 45 third downs.

His rating of 67.6 ranks Flutie 13th among AFC passers, who are led by Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe (97.9). Flutie is 23rd among quarterbacks in the league.

Pro Bowl wide receiver Eric Moulds (hamstring) felt good in practice Wednesday and could be ready for this week's game in Washington. That would help; Moulds, whom Flutie hooked up with for 1,368 yards last season, a team record for Moulds, missed the last two games.

"When a team is not playing well, people are going to look for answers," Moulds said Wednesday. "Is it Flutie? Is it the offensive line? Is it the receivers? The running backs? You can't always blame the quarterback."

Bills coach Wade Phillips considers questions about Flutie to be nothing short of attacks on his quarterback, who replaced injured starter Rob Johnson when the Bills were 1-3 last year and took them to the playoffs.

"I don't know why anybody would think I wouldn't stand up for my players," said Phillips, whose team is 5-3. "I stand up for my team. If (strong safety) Henry Jones is having a bad game, I don't jerk him out of the game. If (left guard) Ruben Brown is having a bad game, I still think they can come back and win for us. I'm going to play the best players."

Phillips maintained throughout preseason that he was getting Flutie and Johnson ready, even going so far as to list them as co-starters on the depth chart.

But Phillips did not instruct Johnson to warm up on Sunday, even as Flutie fluttered, and criticism of the quarterback intensified.

"I don't hear it," Flutie said. "I don't buy the papers or watch the news or listen to the radio. People are going to second-guess everything."

Flutie made some big plays down the stretch against Baltimore, including the winning touchdown pass with 1:50 to play. Baltimore quarterback Tony Banks was just as much a hero in Buffalo, with two turnovers in the final seven minutes that allowed Flutie to pull it off.

"I think we average throwing it 30 times a game and the last three weeks we've been averaging about 45," Phillips said. "You're going to see more incompletions, more tipped passes, more whatever the more you throw it. Even interceptions, and that's one area that we have to cut down on."

Flutie said he wouldn't second-guess himself on his passes, including two of his three interceptions last week. Phillips was asked if he agreed with his quarterback's self-evaluation. "I agree with whatever Doug said," Phillips said.

There's hope for Flutie to stage yet another comeback, but he'll need help. The defense is coming off one of its best performances after digging holes for the team in losses to Oakland and Seattle, and Brown (hamstring) might return this week to help patch up the porous offensive line.

Improvement in the line also could help the Buffalo running game, which has scored four touchdowns all year including one by Flutie.

The leading rusher is Antowain Smith, with 343 yards. Flutie is next with 307, followed by Jonathan Linton with 278. Smith, the featured back, has slumped, averaging 3.6 yards per carry.


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