Since they're men of intellect, not physical stature, Doug Flutie stood eyeball to eyeball with Bill Belichick Sunday night. This time the Bills' quarterback won.
A year ago Belichick set the NFL standard for defensing Flutie in what was otherwise a magic season for the Bills' little quarterback. The notion was that every defensive coordinator whose team is on Buffalo's schedule this season would try to copy the Jet deep thinker's strategy.
No strategy can nullify a great athlete at his best thinking on his feet.
Flutie was at his most cerebral on this night. He knew when to run, when to pass, when to be conservative and when to be daring. The job description for quarterbacks does not include blocking, but Flutie also demonstrated he knows when to block and how.
This was a vital game for the Bills, no matter how early in the season. Granted, the Jets were playing without six starters due to injuries. The Bills weren't about to send them a get-well card in any form, however. They couldn't afford to start with two losses in their own division, the highly competitive AFC East. Flutie led his teammates in proving that they didn't intend to let that happen.
They also proved they do, indeed, have a running game by gouging the Jets' tough defense for 224 yards. Also confirmed was that the offensive line is capable of big things, and that they didn't wish to be judged by that trance in which they played in the opening loss in Indianapolis.
It was fitting that Flutie and his chums redeemed themselves before a national television audience on a day when crazy and near-crazy things happened throughout the NFL: the Raiders winning in Minnesota; the Lions, sans Barry Sanders, expanding their record to 2-0; Denver sinking to 0-2; Miami struggling at home; and Green Bay losing on artificial turf again.
Anything can happen in the NFL now, including a munchkin quarterback cutting down a 258-pound linebacker to set up Buffalo's first touchdown.
The play started with Buffalo on the Jets' 13-yard line with less than a minute to play in the first half. Antowain Smith began to run right, saw his path blocked and reversed his field. Let Flutie tell the rest:
"I thought Antowain was past me, so I looked upfield for a defensive back to block. Then I glanced back and saw Mo Lewis (the Jets' Pro Bowl linebacker) running after him. I thought about blocking him high, then I chickened out."
Some chicken. Flutie blocked Lewis low and dropped him while Smith ran all the way into the end zone. It turned out Smith stepped out of bounds on the 1-yard line but on the next play he walked in for a touchdown.
"You got the smallest guy on the team out there with the biggest heart," Smith said of Flutie, "but he was laying it all on the line for us. He's a leader. In the locker room he kidded me. He told me 'Hey 'Towaine! Guess who had the longest run of the game?' "
Antowain's feelings were widespread. Out on the field dashed third-string quarterback Alex Van Pelt, punter Chris Mohr and a covey of linemen to show what they thought about his stirring play.
"I don't do that a lot and people always say, 'The quarterback could get hurt blocking,' " admitted Flutie, "but sometimes you have to do some blocking, just like everyone else, in order to win a football game."
It would be wrong to say that Flutie's feat was the inspiration for the Bills' spirited, overall play, since the Buffalo team started the game in high gear and maintained it all night. But the block sustained those spirits in a game in which scoring was at a premium.
Someone pointed out that Flutie's passing statistics, 15 completions of 25 passes for 160 yards, were nothing special. "We converted 60 percent of our third downs," countered coach Wade Phillips. "That's a pretty strong statistic. We also had 224 yards rushing, and Doug is a big part of that running game."
A year ago, Belichick, considered one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, devised a special antidote for Flutie, which involved the sophisticated use of a two-man -- and on a few occasions a one-man -- line, along with frequent use of a "spy" to monitor Flutie's activities.
Flutie, in whose heart beats a large competitive drum, does not forget such bleak days. He is a man who plots revenge.
"In the game against the Jets in New York, I didn't play well," he admitted Sunday night. "But (last year's) game here had a lot more to do with the weather than their game plan. The wind kept me from having a very good day throwing the ball. Vinny (Testaverde) didn't have much success, either."
Translation: "I owed you one, Belichick."