Game was even better than hype.
by Rick Anderson, webmaster of Bills Thunder
October 29, 2001
All the hype and hoopla leading up to the Doug Flutie vs. Rob Johnson showdown did the actual game between the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers and injustice. The game was even better than billed.
Johnson limped off the field and into the locker room with an ankle injury. It appeared as if he were done for the day, but he came back out for the next series and played with the kind of grit and determination that Buffalo Bills fans haven't seen since Jim Kelly retired. In the game's waning moments, Johnson led the Bills down the field and into field goal position for 44-yard field goal attempt with 15 seconds left. The field goal was blocked and the San Diego Chargers were able to hold on for a 27-24 victory over the Bills. But that was not the real story of this game as far as Bills fans are concerned. The real story is that Rob Johnson has finally come of age and has taken the reigns of the team.
This was a signature game for Johnson. After hearing all the criticism the week leading up to the big showdown between Johnson and Flutie, Johnson played the most courageous game of his career. He was bruised, battered and woozy. But he got up every time and had that determination that nothing was going to stop him as long as he could walk. Johnson not only walked, but ran with abandon throughout the game. He was the Bills leading rusher with 67 yards on 11 carries. After spotting the Chargers the first 13 points, Johnson took control of the ball game. He would not be intimidated by former teammate Marcellus Wiley (who sacked Johnson twice) the raucous crowd, and the constant hits he was receiving at the hands of the Chargers. No, this was a game that Johnson had to finish, no matter how much pain was inflicted upon him.
Johnson staged a Bills comeback with the true grit former Bills great Jim Kelly was known for. With every bone in his body aching, Johnson came up for the count. Now the big question is whether he can do it every week and whether he can stay healthy for the remainder of the season.Chargers come out storming
This was a game that pitted the two quarterbacks who were feuding over the Bills starting job the past three seasons. Now both Johnson and Flutie were No. 1 with their respective teams. The two fighters put on their gloves and came out swinging.
Flutie led his Chargers from the beginning, getting a huge 13-0 lead at the start of the second quarter. On their opening drive, the Chargers bolted down to the Buffalo 20. However, the Bills D stiffened and Wade Richey came on to kick the field goal. After Johnson was foiled on the Bills opening drive, the Chargers came right back down the field with Flutie doing is old magic. Driving down 56 yards, San Diego was stopped on third down when Flutie's pass was off target. But Kevin Irvin was flagged for interference and the Chargers got a first down on the one yard line. From there, Flutie hit a perfect strike to Freddie Jones all alone in the right corner of the endzone and suddenly the Bolts were up 10-0.
Marcellus Wiley had a hey day against his former team, getting one sack on the opening Buffalo drive and stripping the ball from Johnson on another sack at the end of the first quarter to allow the Chargers to get into the Bills red zone once again. The key play that prevented the Chargers from taking a 17-0 lead was when the Bills defense stuffed Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson for a loss, forcing the Chargers to go for another field goal. Had San Diego gotten the touchdown there, the Bills would have had an almost impossible task of overcoming a 17 point deficit. As it was, they were able to get back in it, thanks largely to the heroics of Johnson.Shades of the old resilient Bills
Picture the Bills glory years when Jim Kelly would literally pick himself up from the turf after getting a concussion and coming right back in after sitting out one play. Johnson did that time after time Sunday. The Chargers were manhandling Johnson, especially in the first half when he got sacked 4 times. But Johnson took a page out of Flutie's book and started moving out of the pocket as soon as the ball was snapped to avoid any further damage. Johnson was the Bills top rusher, racking up 67 yards and most of those came out of self preservation. He would roll out to the sidelines and throw the ball a split second before being hammered.
Johnson hooked up with Peerless Price on a 46-yard pass that had Price brought down on the one yard line. On the very next play, Johnson did a quarterback sneak and the Bills were back in the game.
The Bills tacked on another 3 points after Johnson led them down the field on a 49-yard drive on 11 plays which featured Johnson scrambles of 16 and 11 yards.
Then disaster struck for Johnson and his Bills. Johnson hurried his throw to avoid a sack and his pass went right into the hands of Chargers safety Jason Perry, who galloped 37 yards untouched for a Charger touchdown. At the time, that looked like the game sealer, with the Chargers up 20-10. But Johnson, once again picked himself up from the canvas and got right back into the fight.
On his very next snap from center, Johnson found Price streaking down the right sidelines and connected with him for a 61-yard bomb to put the Bills right back into the mix.
Then came the Kelly-like drive. Johnson displayed true grit when he engineered a 68-yard march that took just a little over 5 minutes for the go-ahead touchdown. Johnson suffered quite a few hits on the noggin on that drive, including one where he ran out of bounds and was flipped backwards onto his head. Coming up woozy, Johnson refused to take himself out of the game and gave the ball to Travis Henry, who was able to score from 3 yards out. With a minute and a half remaining and the Bills up 24-20, it looked as if this would rank up there as one of the biggest comebacks of all time for the Bills.
That's when deja vu happened all over again. Can you say "Home run throwback?" This was almost as stunning as that historic and bizarre touchdown return a few years ago. In that Wild Card playoff game in Tennessee, the Titans pulled off that Music City Miracle with a trick "lateral pass" to score a last second victory. It was strikingly similar as Brian Moorman kicked the ball down deep and it was returned by Ronney Jenkins, who broke through the Bills special teams players and had only one man to beat for the touchdown... Moorman himself. Moorman grabbed Jenkins around the collar bone and yanked him down. In the heat of the moment, Moorman pushed and taunted Jenkins, thus getting another 13 yards tacked on for unsportsmanlike conduct, putting the ball on the Bills 13-yard line.
That's when Flutie pulled out another magic trick out of his Lightning inscribed helmet. The pocket collapsed on Flutie and Shawn Price appeared to have Flutie in his grasp. Suddenly, the diminutive quarterback squirted out from the mass of humanity and was heading for the endzone. He dove to paydirt to put the Chargers back on top 27-24.
"Everybody was in man coverage," Phil Hansen defended. "The four defensive linemen were accountable for the quarterback on that play. Shawn Price had a great move and was right there."
Once again Johnson drove the Bills back into position for a possible game tying field goal. The key play in the drive was a spectacular pass reception by Bills tight end Jay Riemersma. However, Riemersma came down hard and was injured on the play. Because of league rules about injury time outs with under 2 minutes remaining, the refs took 10 seconds off the clock. With no timeouts remaining, Johnson was forced to spike the ball and Jake Arians came on to attempt kicking a 44-yard field goal.
This is where Bills coach Gregg Williams will be challenged for his wisdom. Critics say he should have made one last attempt to get into the end zone with 14 seconds remaining. But Williams took the side of caution and went for the kick.
The Bills-Chargers matchup was a game that featured numerous ex-Bills on the San Diego roster. Along with Flute and Wiley were Sam Rogers and John Holocek on the field. In the press box was former Bills GM John Butler, who had a lot going on ths game. With all these Buffalo ties, leave it to yet another Buffalo connection to have a hand in the final outcome.
When Arians kicked the ball for the would-be tying field goal, former University of Buffalo great Ed Ellis got his hand on the ball at the line of scrimmage, thus foiling the Bills hopes of sending the game into overtime.And the winner of the Flutie-Johnson War is....
Both quarterbacks. It was an outstanding game for both Flutie and Johnson, as they staged a highlight reel game that could go down as a classic. Flutie displayed his usual magic, throwing 21 times for 254 yards on 33 completions and no interceptions. He was sacked once, and that sack was very controversial. It appeared as if he were sacked in the endzone for a safety. Williams demanded a review of the play, but the official reviewing it ruled that Flutie was not in the endzone. That could have been the game-breaker right there, as the Chargers were able to get out of danger the next play. Flutie's 13 yard scramble for the winning touchdown was typical Flutie.
Rob Johnson played probably his best game of his career, considering the implications of playing against Flutie and the hammering he took all afternoon. Big number 11 completed 24 of 37 attempts for 310 yards, one TD and one pick. He also scored one himself on a sneak. No one can say Johnson doesn't have the heart and grit of a champion. Now he has to prove he can do it on a weekly basis and stay in one piece in doing it.
Jim Kelly said in a radio interview Monday that he is going to have a talk with Johnson. His main point is to learn to slide before getting hit. Kelly said that Johnson will not last too much longer if he continues to get the kind of pummeling he's been getting.
One thing is clear from this game with the Chargers, and this is Rob Johnson has the makings of a great quarterback. Now the Bills front office has to build a team around him. That starts at offensive line, which right now is probably the worst the NFL has been in decades.Bills Talk
Johnson was upset with not being able to beat his old nemesis.
"It hurts that much," admitted Johnson. "This game was huge for us, playing a lot of our old teammates. Going against Mr. Butler, the old scouting department. This is Bills West. So it would have been a great victory."
Williams was ecstatic over Johnson's play.
"I thought Rob played very well today," Williams said. "I thought he managed the ballgame under duress. We had a tough time blocking those guys at times, and he bought us time with his feet. Rob and this team answered the bell. This team grew up today, and it's nice to see their leader leading them by example."
Bills fullback Larry Centers had words of praise for Johnson.
"He showed a tremendous amount of courage," lauded Centers. "I think he showed the Bills kept the right quarterback."
Then he turned his attention to the game itself.
"Games like this hurt so much," Centers said. "We should have won this game. This is one that got away."
Wiley was in a great mood after the game.
"We got after him but he made great plays," Wiley talked about his former teammate. "He threw for 300 and ran for about 500. We were chasing him but he's elusive. I hope his confidence is rising because he's getting better and better every week. And Doug, man, he is special. Memories like today and the Jacksonville game a few years ago, they make you realize that if you just stay in contention, Flutie will capitalize in the end."
The ever-talkative Wiley went on...
"After the kickoff return, I wasn't thinking about Tennessee," Wiley talked about the return. "I was thinking Jacksonville because I was rooting for Flutie. The Bills brought their A-plus-plus game but we just had a little more."
What did Flutie have to say about beating the team the literally fired him?
"Another day at the office, I guess," Flutie said.
About his 13-yard touchdown scamper...
"That was special," admitted Flutie. "Believe it or not, I've only gotten six rushing touchdowns in the NFL. And it was a big touchdown, so I wanted to keep the ball. Not that it was Buffalo. That it was the last minute of the game, and a big touchdown."
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