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FLUTIE SPARKLES, BUT THE RUSH DOESN'T LAST

If the idea was to see how well quarterback Doug Flutie would function for one series with the starting offense, then the Buffalo Bills could consider Saturday night's preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers a success.

Otherwise, the Bills had few reasons to feel great about their offensive performance in an ugly 16-14 victory over the Steelers before a crowd of 44,164 on hand for the christening of newly renovated Ralph Wilson Stadium.

At 3-1, the Bills finished the preseason with a winning record for only the third time since 1975. The Steelers ended the summer at 1-3.

For the second week in a row, Buffalo's defense looked fairly strong, particularly reserve nose tackle Pat Williams, who was credited with six tackles and had one of the Bills' four sacks.

But after Flutie came out in a no-huddle offense and guided the Bills on a 70-yard scoring drive on the opening series, the offense -- and especially the line -- quickly lost the look of a unit ready to begin playing for keeps in seven days.

"It looked a lot like a preseason game (after the first series), and I thought it would," said coach Wade Phillips, who must trim his roster from 66 to the regular-season maximum of 53 by 4 p.m. today. "There were mistakes that you would like for them not to make, but (the Steelers) obviously made a lot more than we did.

"We played a lot of people, looked at a lot of guys, gave a lot of guys an opportunity. And we'll make those type of decisions (today)."

Rob Johnson took over for Flutie, and remained in the game until late in the third quarter.

He had his problems working behind a line that struggled badly in pass protection, even when the Steelers were playing mostly second- and third-line defenders. Johnson was sacked four times, and suffered what he described as a minor injury to his left (non-throwing) hand on the final sack.

The running backs also had trouble finding running room. And running back Jonathan Linton, who fumbled three times in the preseason opener at Seattle, had his fourth fumble of the summer after catching a pass. That led to a Pittsburgh field goal.

The Bills had 11 net rushing yards in the first half, with Antowain Smith gaining 8 yards on eight carries, and was stopped cold on a third-and-1 play midway through the second quarter. Johnson had the longest run of the half with a 10-yarder.

For the game the Bills had 99 rushing yards, 50 from rookie free-agent running back Anthony Gray.

Working from a hurry-up offense, Flutie connected on 3 of 6 passes for 59 yards, including a 29-yard completion down the sideline to Eric Moulds to the Steelers' 22-yard line. After a 6-yard run by Thurman Thomas, Flutie zipped a perfect 16-yard strike to tight end Jay Riemersma in the middle of the end zone to give the Bills a 7-0 lead 2:03 into the game.

And that would be all for Flutie.

"I felt like I didn't play," he said with a laugh. "It's funny. I guess in preseason veterans kind of look forward to the fact they can go out and play and get off the field. But when it's going like that, you want to stay out there.

"It was a good, solid drive. We decided to come out and run a little of the no-huddle offense to try to get a feel for it because we haven't had many two-minute situations (in the preseason). I was under the impression I was probably going to play the first quarter. And, all of a sudden, it was bang, bang, bang, down the field and in. Guess he (Phillips) figured it looked good, so let's quit while we're ahead."

Flutie did express concern about the ineffectiveness of the Bills' running game for most of the preseason.

"Obviously, you want to be more productive running the football," he said. "When we run the ball, we need to pick up 2 or 3 yards. You need to be able to pick up the first downs in short-yardage situations; you need to be able to shove it in the end zone when you get it in close.

"You need consistency in it, and we're working at it."

The Steelers had a chance to get on the board with 3:43 left in the first quarter, but Kris Brown was wide right on a 32-yard field-goal attempt.

Brown got a second chance, from 49 yards, at the end of the first quarter, and put it through to cut the Bills' lead to 7-3. The field goal came after Darryl Porter was penalized 5 yards for encroachment when the Steelers were punting on fourth-and-14 from the Buffalo 36.

After Linton fumbled and linebacker John Fiala recovered at the Buffalo 38 with 1:20 remaining in the half, reserve quarterback Pete Gonzalez drove the Steelers to the 26, setting up a 43-yard Brown field goal that made the score 7-6 at halftime.

The Bills took advantage of a 17-yard punt by Josh Miller for their second score of the night, a 42-yard Steve Christie field goal that gave them a 10-6 lead early in the third quarter.

After another strong stand by Buffalo's defense, the Bills' offense looked like it was finally getting its act together. Gray ripped off a 36-yard carry, a play that should enhance his chances of surviving today's final cuts. However, a holding penalty on offensive guard Jamie Nails wiped out the gain. Nails was inserted at right guard in place of Dusty Zeigler, who started the game for Joe Panos, who has been bothered by neck problems.

Two plays later, Johnson fired a 15-yard pass to rookie wide receiver Peerless Price and, on the next play, he hit Kevin Williams for 13 yards to the Steelers' 31. Later, Johnson ran 13 yards to the Pittsburgh 13, setting up a 40-yard Christie field goal that gave the Bills a 13-6 lead with 3:26 left in the third quarter.

On the play before the field-goal try, Johnson was sacked by linebacker Joey Porter and defensive end Aaron Smith for an 11-yard loss and injured his left hand on the play.

Alex Van Pelt took over at quarterback for the Bills the rest of the way.

Late in the fourth quarter, Gray had a 21-yard carry to help set up a 27-yard Christie field goal to give the Bills a 16-6 lead with 2:14 left on the clock.

Steelers quarterback Mike Tomczak threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Will Blackwell with 12 seconds left. Greg Lomax ran for the two-point conversion to make the score 16-14.

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