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REED FLASHES THE STUFF ELITE CAREERS ARE MADE OF

Doug Flutie spent the previous eight seasons in the Canadian Football League, so until Sunday afternoon he hadn't experienced the full Andre Reed.

He hadn't seen Reed catch a Jim Kelly pass to beat Houston in overtime in the Astrodome. He wasn't around when Reed caught three touchdown passes as Buffalo won the greatest comeback in football history. He didn't see him break every notable Bills' receiving record more than half a career ago.

All Flutie knew was that Reed had his first 100-yard game of the season Sunday against the Colts, which included a 67-yard touchdown reception.

By now, the Bills' new quarterback has discovered that it was Reed's 41st 100-yard game counting playoffs; that it was his 15th touchdown reception against the Colts in 14 years; the 200th regular-season game in his 14-year career.

"What a warrior!" mused coach Wade Phillips. "Two hundred games and having a 67-yard touchdown in the 200th. It shows you he can still play, still can make big plays. You can always count on him."

Reed's play was one of the more significant factors in this laugher, which had a lot of big moments for the Bills. Flutie had nice numbers, but if two touchdowns hadn't been nullified by penalty he would have had a 300-yard game and four touchdowns. Antowain Smith ran for 107 yards. The defense and offensive line were sturdy.

Yet Reed's play suggested brighter things ahead for the Bills, who are 7-4 and in position to make a serious run at the AFC East championship.

It's stretch time. Flutie, more dependent upon Eric Moulds and Jay Riemersma most of the season, has been introduced to one of the most prolific big-game players in Bills history. Reed himself, waxing philosophical after the game, spoke like a man who looked beyond the horizon and sees more big games and an eventual place in the Hall of Fame.

On his touchdown play, Reed caught a simple slant pass, pulled away from the nearest defender and ran away from a couple of others. When he seemed to be slowing up at about the 20-yard line, he jarred his pursuer, Tyrone Poole, with a stiff-arm jab to which Sugar Ray Leonard might have laid claim.

"I injured my leg in preseason (a scrimmage against Philadelphia) and it hasn't been the same," he revealed. "It'll probably take the offseason to build the leg back up. Still, I got in there for the touchdown, so it didn't matter."

Flutie remarked that "throwing slant routes is easy for me but a tough catch for receivers. It's where they are running into traffic. They can get lit up from anywhere. Andre stiff-armed that guy away from him like it was nothing."

Flutie is still talking like a diplomat, trying to parcel out praise on a democratic basis so that every receiver is kept happy. It's a worthy thing to do, but somewhere along the line when a big game is at stake, Flutie will find out that Reed is something special.

Reaching the 200-game plateau, which puts him in genuinely elite company, was what put Reed in a philosophical mood.

"I've had the honor of being part of a great organization and I've been able to play with great players," said Reed. He spoke of how he had to adjust from receiving passes by Kelly, a disciplined pocket passer, to Flutie, who can buzz from one part of the field to the next, leap in the air, come down and then launch an unexpected pass to any receiver.

"The right word is change," he said. "Doug definitely adds another dimension to our offense. I give credit to the offensive line today. Matter of fact, the last five or six games, they've been doing a tremendous job. I think they're finally realizing that as a unit they can play well. We feed off each other and with Doug in there, if something breaks down, he's going to make a play somewhere, somehow."

You got the impression the 34-year-old veteran was basking in the change. "I'll probably think about the milestones later," he said.

What he wasn't thinking about was the finger he dislocated catching Flutie's slant pass on the way to the long touchdown. "My finger was pointing one way and I was running the other," he said. "Once I got to the end zone I popped it back in place so it pointed in the right direction."

Reed is a more mature player than he has been at any time in his career. He realizes that it isn't going to last forever. He spoke of 200-game milestones which will come up for Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas fairly soon. He likes the idea of the three old vets teaching the young players how to win as the team battles its way through the final weeks of the season.

Winning is a sweet way to close out a great career.

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