The Buffalo Bills are back in business.
And the man largely responsible for putting them there is Doug Flutie, the same man largely responsible for saving their 1998 season.
Flutie's running, throwing and even his blocking led the Bills to a 17-3 victory over the injury-ravaged New York Jets before a sellout crowd of 68,839 at Ralph Wilson Stadium and a national television audience Sunday night.
Flutie's performance ignited the spark that put some fire into an otherwise lethargic game. It also helped the Bills bounce back from a lousy performance in their 31-14 season-opening loss at Indianapolis last week and avenge at least one of their two losses to the Jets last year.
Instead of falling into an uncomfortable 0-2 hole overall and in the AFC East, the Bills are 1-1 entering a very winnable home game next Sunday against the 0-2 Philadelphia Eagles.
"I don't know if there are must-wins in Week Two; we didn't win in Week Two last year," coach Wade Phillips said. "But I just thought we had to play better. . . . Our guys made up their mind they were going to play well and they did. . . . I think we have a lot of momentum now that we didn't have going into the season."
"(Going) 0-2 is rough," said Flutie, who completed 15 of 25 passes for 160 yards. "You go over to the Jets' locker room right now. They're questioning themselves. They're wondering, 'When are we going to win?' . . . Until you get that taste of winning, it's scary."
The Bills also seem to have found the running game they were sorely missing since the preseason. The Bills rushed for 224 yards on 47 carries, an average gain of 4.8 yards.
"When we're running the ball well," Flutie said, "it opens up a whole other aspect of our game -- play-action passes, hitting little dart routes, running naked bootlegs. By running the ball, it creates an attitude and a tempo.
"The offensive line came in with the attitude that they were going to show (the media) we can run the ball and they were going to show the rest of the league that we can run the ball."
Antowain Smith, who had only 7 rushing yards on six attempts against the Colts, exploded for 113 yards on 30 carries Sunday night.
"The offensive line did a tremendous job," Smith said. "They were coming off the ball tremendously and moving people around, which allowed me to find the holes."
But the game's biggest rushing star was Flutie, who ran seven times for an NFL career-best 67 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown that broke the game open in the third quarter. Flutie also threw a key block that allowed Smith to run 12 yards to set up his 1-yard TD run that gave the Bills a 7-0 lead with 39 seconds left in the first half.
It was also a good night for the Bills' defense, which staged an impressive goal-line stand and allowed the fewest points since a 38-0 win over the Colts on Sept. 20, 1992. Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, the Jets' best offensive weapon, was held to only three catches for 47 yards.
"The coaches prepared us well for this game," Bills linebacker John Holecek said.
The first quarter was scoreless and provided very little entertainment for a crowd that witnessed the induction of former Bills trainer Ed Abramoski to the team's Wall of Fame before the game.
The Jets' offense -- which had recently acquired journeyman Rick Mirer replacing injured Vinny Testaverde at quarterback and was missing starting wide receiver Wayne Chrebet, tight end Eric Green and third-down running back Leon Johnson -- struggled to move the ball from the beginning.
"We did a good job, but they had a lot going against them," Phillips said. "And we took advantage of that, which is what you have to do to win in the NFL."
The Bills were able to establish the run from the very start. But they missed an opportunity to score when Steve Christie was wide left on a 44-yard field-goal attempt late in the first quarter. Christie also was wide left on a 45-yard try early in the second before hitting a 35-yarder late in the game.
The turning point came with 5:16 left in the second quarter when the Bills' defense, which struggled badly against the Colts, stopped a Jets scoring chance at the goal line.
The Jets drove to the Buffalo 1, and coach Bill Parcells, showing typical boldness, went for it on fourth down. After a controversial time out that the officials recognized despite flagging the Jets for a delay-of-game penalty, running back Jerald Sowell tried running through the middle and was stopped at the 1.
"You're on the road, you're on the 6-inch line, you've got to be able to get the ball in the end zone," Parcells said. "The percentage play isn't three. The percentage play is to try to go for the six."
As if failing to reach the end zone wasn't bad enough, the Jets proceeded to allow the Bills to drive 99 yards in 12 plays to Smith's 1-yard scoring run.
The highlights of the drive all involved Flutie. On consecutive plays, he had scrambles of 14 and 24 yards.
Then came one of the bigger plays of the game. On first-and-10 from the Jets' 13, Smith began running to his right, then reversed his field. As he did, the 178-pound Flutie took out the legs of 258-pound Pro Bowl linebacker Mo Lewis, allowing Smith to gain 12 yards before going out of bounds at the 1.
"I cut the ball back and Doug saw me and he just laid it out there for me," Smith said. "He took out Mo Lewis, one of their best defensive players. It was a great block to spring me."
"The fourth-down play was a big play for us," Phillips said. "And then to take it all the way down the field just changed the game there."
Early in the third quarter, Flutie put the Bills in firm control when, on third-and-3 from the New York 24, he ran a bootleg right, and, with a wide open field in front of him, cut back to the middle and tumbled into the end zone to give Buffalo a 14-0 lead.
The Jets answered on the next drive with their only points, a 31-yard John Hall field goal.
With 2:05 left in the game, Christie kicked his 35-yard field goal to make it 17-3.
"It's always a hard road to climb when you are 0-2, and especially 0-2 against the AFC East," said wide receiver Eric Moulds, who was held to three catches for 38 yards. "Getting this win can put us right back into the thick of things. We just need to go out and play it one week at a time and go from there."