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Fletcher's reunion loses luster

London Fletcher did his best to downplay Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, the team he played for the past five seasons before signing with the Washington Redskins.

But after jokingly saying this was just another game, he finally suggested this one was circled on his calendar.

"I knew probably about two games [into] the season," the 10-year veteran middle linebacker said this week during a conference call with the Buffalo media. "I knew when we played Dallas and I knew when we played Buffalo. But right now it obviously doesn't have the same meaning to me because of everything that's taken place."

Fletcher was referring to Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who died of a gun shot wound early Tuesday morning.

This game was supposed to be billed as a reunion of Fletcher and his old team. But those story lines have taken a back seat in the aftermath of Taylor's death.

"This game, when you're dealing with Sean's death, has taken on a new perspective for us because it's tough for us," Fletcher said. "We have a game on Sunday and we have to be professionals."

The game will go on Sunday, and it's a good chance Fletcher will have a say in the outcome.

He is having another outstanding season, justifying the five-year, $25 million free-agent contract the Redskins gave him in the offseason. He has over 100 tackles for the ninth consecutive season, seven passes defensed and two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

Fletcher has been the catalyst to a dramatic turnaround by the Redskins' defense, which is ninth in the NFL after ranking 31st in 2006.

"He's played at a high level," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "It's not a surprise. Wherever he's been throughout his career he's played at a very high level and been a leader. He looks like the same guy on the field for them."

Fletcher, 32, was highly productive for the Bills. He averaged 169 tackles in that period, including a franchise record 209 in 2002, and collected 14 1/2 sacks.

His best overall season might have been last year when he had 157 tackles (nine for losses) and 14 passes defensed, and tied a career high with four interceptions. He also returned a fumble and interception for TDs.

But that wasn't enough to secure Fletcher's future in Buffalo. He seemed to know the end was near as the season ended, but he backed off earlier comments that the Bills didn't try to re-sign him.

"That wasn't accurate for me to say that they didn't try to re-sign me," he said. "They offered me a contract extension prior to the season. They offered me one before free agency. They offered me a contract once free agency started. Now whether we could meet the right numbers, those are different things. But they did try to re-sign me."

Everything seems to have worked out for Fletcher though. Coming to Washington reunited him with Gregg Williams, the Bills' head coach during Fletcher's first two years in Buffalo. Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, lobbied hard for the Redskins to sign Fletcher.

Also on Washington's staff are former Bills assistants Jerry Gray, Steve Jackson and Danny Smith.

"It's been great for me, a great transition," Fletcher said. "Coming from Buffalo to Washington, you've got an idea of what to expect, but you're still not sure how you're going to fit in with the team, your teammates. Having a familiarity with Gregg was definitely a good thing, and Jerry Gray and Steve Jackson and Danny Smith.

"My teammates have embraced me. I've picked up the defense pretty well. My family, they love it here. I'm enjoying being here in Washington. I miss some things in Buffalo, some people within the organization, some teammates, but I think I'm at a good place in my career."

Fletcher is still held in high regard in the Bills' locker room.

"I looked up to him a lot," middle linebacker John DiGiorgio said. "He taught me a lot about being a pro football player."

"Fletch was vocal when he had to be and he got the guys together when he had to," added outside linebacker Angelo Crowell. "He was everything and had all the qualities you ask for out of a leader. But most important, he demonstrated his leadership by his play."

At an age where many football players start to decline, Fletcher is still at the top of his game. He wouldn't expect anything less.

"I take my job very serious in terms of my preparation, my approach to the game," he said. "I'm definitely happy to be playing at a high level where I'm at in my career. I feel great. I feel better right now at this time of the season than I did last year at this time of the season. I'm excited and I still love playing football."


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