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LINE ANSWERS ITS CRITICS BY GOING ON THE OFFENSIVE

Ruben Brown insists he was busy watching cartoons and the Discovery Channel, so he didn't hear any of the negative banter about the offensive line last week.

Brown apparently developed an internal defense mechanism during his days at the University of Pittsburgh that allows him to become immune to criticism. President Clinton must have taken a course there.

"I spent five years in Pittsburgh, and it was hard down there," Brown said. "We weren't doing well, and there was no future. I learned. Now, I don't pay attention to it. I just go on about my business."

OK, but somehow everybody else on the offensive line got the message. Bills coach Wade Phillips made sure the O-line knew before the home opener against the New York Jets on Sunday night that people outside the team doubted its effectiveness after the Week One loss to Indianapolis.

"The good thing for me is that I talk to them every day," Phillips said. "There are certain things that I hammer with them every day. You throw in a little, 'They say you can't do this' every once in a while."

It's a coaching tactic that was old when Knute Rockne was in diapers, but Phillips said it helped his linemen become ultra-inspired against the Jets because they had something to prove. The offensive line, which underwent three changes before the opener, made an attitude adjustment and produced a much-improved running game last Sunday.

Doug Flutie sensed the change when the Bills ran onto the field before the game. His hunch was confirmed in the huddle when he looked at his teammates. The quarterback knew something was different when he handed off the ball to running back Antowain Smith and heard smash-up derby behind him.

"The attitude was, 'Gimme the damn ball, and let's try to ram it down their throat,' " Flutie said. "You could see it in Antowain's eyes. You could hear it after I handed the ball. I was hearing collisions all over the place. It was Sam Gash ramming into Bryan Cox, Antowain putting his head down and running through people and the O-line coming off the ball. It was loud. It was impressive."

The Bills rolled up 224 yards rushing against the Jets and put together a 99-yard drive that was as demoralizing for New York as it was damaging. Perhaps more convincing was they ran the ball well in the second half, when the Jets defense knew they were coming on the ground.

"We proved we can do it," Phillips said. "Whether we can do it every week, that remains to be seen. At least there's a positive in there that we can do it. They're a good run-defense team. To be able to run the ball against them, with the defense they have, I thought we did a heck of a job."

Smith finished with 113 yards rushing -- or 106 yards more than he had in the previous Sunday debacle. Much of the yardage came while the Bills pounded the ball between the tackles. Flutie darted around for 67 yards and was not sacked after being dropped five times against the Colts.

Center Jerry Ostroski was the Bills' best offensive lineman against the Jets. He and Dusty Zeigler, after losing his job at center and being inserted for right guard Joe Panos (who will miss the game Sunday), were pushing nose tackles Ernie Logan and Jason Wiltz 5 yards off the line of scrimmage on some plays. Robert Hicks played well enough to keep Marcus Spriggs on the bench.

Brown, other than a couple of inexcusable penalties for illegal procedure, played equally well on the left side with tackle John Fina. Overall, the O-line served up more pancakes than Sunday brunch at Denny's. And the Bills, in one week, seemed to quiet their critics with a 17-3 victory.

"I thought a lot of things came together in this game," Phillips said. "The offensive line played well. There's no doubt about it. There were no sacks, and we ran for a lot of yardage. A lot of it was smash-mouth where they knew we were coming."

For everything the Bills did against the Jets, it adds up to just about nothing going into the game Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bills could have an even bigger game this week if they keep the collective chip on their shoulder.

But the Bills won't know how good their offensive line will be until well into the season, when they get into the heart of their schedule against Miami (next week), Pittsburgh (in two weeks) and Oakland (in three weeks). Maybe then, if all remains well, the doubts raised after Week One will disappear for good.

"The riddle to the whole running game is the Buffalo Bills themselves," Ostroski said. "If we continue to play like we did on Sunday night, we shouldn't have many problems during the year. If we revert back to the way we played in Indianapolis, then we're going to have problems. The questions are going to return anyway. It's just the way this game is, and it's not going to change."

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