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JOHNSON 'A LITTLE SURPRISED' TO START AGAINST COLTS

Rob Johnson has thrown only two passes this year.

So with the Bills not needing Sunday's game in order to make the playoffs, coach Wade Phillips decided it was a perfect time to rest Doug Flutie and give the team's $5 million a year backup some much-needed work.

"I'm really excited," said Johnson, who will make the seventh start of his five-year career. "When you haven't played in a year, it's always fun to know you're going to get out there."

Johnson said he did not expect to start.

"I was a little surprised. I thought I'd play, but I didn't think I'd start," he said. "If our offense was clicking and playing two halves and doing really well, then I'd think that. But I thought maybe they'd let (Flutie) go a little longer just to get a feel before the playoffs. But I'm grateful I've got a shot to start."

"I think he's earned an opportunity to play," Phillips said. "He has worked awfully hard all year, and I think he's improved. I want to see that in this ballgame."

Phillips stressed that the Bills will not rest their starters against the Colts and that they will try their hardest to win the game.

"It doesn't mean we don't want to win this game," Phillips said. "I certainly think we can win with Rob at quarterback or I wouldn't be playing him. We're playing to win this game.

"It gives us a chance to rest Doug going into the playoffs," Phillips said. "Last year we rested Doug in the last game and I think it helped him."

Flutie agreed.

"I like to play -- preseason, postseason, whatever it is," he said. "But it's smart. I could use the rest and let some things heal up a little bit, get 100 percent healthy. It's a chance to let Rob get out on the field and let it fly. He's busted his butt all year long. He deserves a chance to play."

Phillips said he is satisfied that Flutie is ready for the playoffs.

"Doug's playing awfully well right now," he said. "He's won 10 games. I think he deserves a rest. I think he's hit 65 percent of his passes the past two games, and he seems to be hitting a peak and he's where we'd like him to be going into the playoffs."
Sunday's game is virtually assured of being the first of the year not shown on local television. There still were 13,000 tickets left on Wednesday.
Bill Conaty is expected to start at center in place of Jerry Ostroski, who is listed as doubtful with a sprained knee.

Phillips said he decided against moving Dusty Zeigler from guard to center in part because he did not want to change two positions on the line.

"We've discussed it, and Billy Conaty would come in at center. He deserves a chance to play. That way we don't have to move Dusty," Phillips said.

Zeigler has a sore shoulder, and Phillips said Jamie Nails would split some time with the starter at right guard.

Sam Gash (ribs), Phil Hansen (ribs) and Dan Brandenburg (leg) are listed as questionable. Jonathan Linton (back) is probable.
The Colts have no injuries of note and have been remarkably healthy this season. Reserve linebacker Brad Scioli is questionable. Eleven players are probable.
Andre Reed declined to talk to reporters after Wednesday's practice. Reed may well be playing his last home game as a Bill on Sunday. Reed needs four catches to move into second place on the NFL's all-time reception list. He needs 18 receiving yards to move into fourth place all-time in that category.
The Colts (13-2) are 14 points behind Jacksonville (13-2) in the race for home-field advantage in the AFC. Net points in conference games will be the tie-breaker if the two finish tied. Jacksonville plays at home against Cincinnati Sunday.

Asked if he would try to run up the score Sunday, Colts coach Jim Mora said, "When we're playing against the No. 1 defense in the NFL, running up the score has not even entered my mind, believe me."

If the Jaguars are blowing out Cincinnati at halftime, would that affect how Mora uses his stars in the second half against the Bills?

"It might. I'm not going to say it won't. I don't know."
Alice Butler, the wife of the Bills' general manager, has been released from the hospital and is recovering at home from her car accident of two weeks ago. Alice Butler suffered internal injuries, including a punctured lung, and had to have her spleen removed.

"We are happy to say she is now at home and doing a lot better," said Scott Berchtold, Bills vice president for communications.

Alice Butler's father, James Bonnell, remains in Erie County Medical Center. He has been released from intensive care and is in stable condition.
The Monday Quarterback Club has named its award winners for 1999. Defensive end Phil Hansen was named man of the year. Unsung hero was Sam Gash. Rookies of the year were Antoine Winfield and Peerless Price. Special teams players of the year were Kevin Williams, Sean Moran and Daryl Porter.

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