Bill Belichick had Doug Flutie in check for the entire second half. Now all the Patriots head coach had to do was to keep him from guiding the Bills into field goal range and the Pats had their third victory of the year. Belichick, the coach who wrote the book on how to contain Flutie, was now in his glory. He had his game plan operating effectively and had finally shut down the Bills offense in the second half.
Flutie, however, was able to scramble and pass the Bills into Steve Christie's range and the Bills clutch kicker was able to boot a 48-yard field go to send the game into overtime. Those two players combined to do it again in the sudden death period and Christie's 3rd field goal of the game iced it for Buffalo 16-13.
Bledsoe's early exit
The game might have had a different outcome had Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe been able to finish the game. He left with ten minutes remaining in the first half after he hit his throwing hand on Sam Rogers helmet. Backup quarterback John Friesz came in and did an adequate job, guiding them to a touchdown and a possible winning field goal late in the game.
Friesz had the Pats down in the red zone in the third quarter, but a John Holecek interception foiled that great opportunity. Early in the final quarter, Friesz completed a pass to Troy Brown at the Bills 1-yard line. The Bills D, which had stuffed the Pats running attack the whole game, especially in the red zone, finally was penetrated after three attempts by J.R. Redmond from one yard out and the game was tied at 10.
The Bills punting game, which gave the Patriots great drive starts all day, continued to put the Bills defense at a disadvantage. With a little under four minutes remaining, the Pats took over after another horrible punt by Chris Mohr at the Bills 43. They drove down to the Buffalo 25 and
Adam Vinatieri kicked a 43-yard field goal to give New England a 3 point lead with just over 2 minutes left.
This had been quite a week for Flutie, it always is when his team visits the Boston area. Flutie was sure to get tickets for all his friends and relatives, plus he always has a throng of followers who attend the games he'll play at Foxboro.
Then there was the mid-week blowup of the ongoing feud between him and quarterback Rob Johnson. Sports Illustrated featured an article this week that had some quotes from an unnamed player(s) that were very uncomplimentary about Johnson.
Johnson came back strong Friday afternoon on the Jim Rome nationally syndicated sports talk show saying that it was one person doing all the talking, and he hinted that person was none other than Flutie.
Flutie put all that garbage behind him and concentrated on the game. The Bills diminutive quarterback engineered the Bills first two scoring drives in the first half and had the team rolling until the Antithesis of Flutie, Bill Belichick masterminded a perfect game plan against the Bills quarterback in the second half.
When Flutie returned to the NFL after his long hiatus in the CFL, he took the league by storm and no team could figure a way to stop him and his great scrambling ability. Enter Belichick. The genius of the Giants defense that stopped the Bills in Super Bowl XXV came up with a plan to stop Flutie. Have a spy or two on defense stay right on the line and maintain "Flutie guard." Another thing Belichick employed was to put pressure on Flutie on both sides, thus forcing him to stay in the pocket. That resulted in numerous batted down passes and even sacks on the elusive quarterback. The consequence of Belichick's handcuffing Flutie were 3 wins against one loss. Very impressive. The book was now out on Flutie and copies became best sellers around the league.
With the Pats up 13-10 and 2 minutes remaining, it was high noon in the showdown between the Bills quarterback and the man who invented the solution to stop him. This was the defining moment of the chess game between Flutie and Belichick. Flutie was in check, now he had to find a way out.
Steve Christie is making a habit of this. People may be complaining about his short kickoffs, but when the game is on the line, Christie has come through time and again. This year alone, Christie has won four games with his foot, two of them coming in overtime.
"He's an amazing guy under pressure," said Bills coach Wade Phillips.
The Bills were down 13-10, and Flutie engineered a 10-play 46-yard drive down the field and got into field goal position. With the Christie looking at a long field goal, Bills coach Wade Phillips decided to give it one last shot for a win, electing instead to keep the offense on the field. Flutie hit Peerless Price at the one yard line, but the official standing there immediately threw a flag on Price for interference. The play was reviewed, but the ruling was upheld. The Bills suddenly were facing a much longer field goal with only 8 seconds left on the clock. Christie kicked a line drive that just barely made it over the uprights, but it was enough to force the overtime.
The Pats got the kickoff in overtime, but the defense held and Flutie came on the field determined to finish off the team that cut him in the late 80s. The interference against Price was evened out when Ty Law was called for a similar infraction at the Pats 43, giving the Bills momentum. Flutie then hit Jay Riemersma for 6 yards and then Shawn Bryson rambled for 5 yards and another 15. Antowain Smith made one of his few carries in weeks as he picked up another 4 and Christie came trotting on the field.
Belichick called a time out to make Christie think about his 32-yard attempt.
When asked if this timeout interrupted his concentration, Christie said, "Actually it gave me time to clear the mud out of my boots, so it was a good thing."
Even if Bledsoe had been at the helm the entire game, the Bills defense would have given him a tough time. While he was in, Bledsoe could not get the Pats into the endzone.
After a Bledsoe to Tony Simmons 22-yard pass got the Pats down to the Buffalo 29, Ken Irvin intercepted a pass intended for Brown ending that scoring opportunity.
Later, with Friesz at the controls, the Pats got down to the Bills 1 after Keion Carpenter was called for interference on Tony Simmons in the endzone. The Bills defense stuffed two straight runs, but then Buffalo was called for a face mask and the Pats had another first and goal. Two more penalties, 15 yards on the Pats, and then another interference on the Bills, put the ball on the one again. That's when Holecek decided to end all that nonsense and intercepted Friesz's pass in the endzone.
The punting of Mohr put the Pats in great position all through the second half and the defense had to be dominating to prevent New England from scoring more than the ten points they did put on the board. The Buffalo defense did its part to secure the victory.
In the early going, the Flutie took the Bills down to the Patriots 2-yard line, but couldn't get them into the endzone. Christie came on and was good from 19-yards out to put the Bills up 3-0.
In the second quarter the Bills drove down for their only touchdown after Flutie led them into position. Flutie threw to Price for two straight completions. Then Tebucky Jones was called for interference and Eric Moulds made an over-the-shoulder catch to get the ball down to the New England 9-yard line.
Jay Riemersma then got all alone and Flutie had one of his easiest touchdown passes in his career.
After that, Belichick kept Flutie in check until the last two drives at the end of regulation and overtime that produced the Bills fifth win of the season.
Flutie was on target when he had to be. He completed 18-37 for 179 yards, had no picks and threw one touchdown to Riemersma. For the Patriots, John Friesz completed 11 of 21 for 66 yards, had one interception while Bledsoe was 3 for 5 and also had a pick.
The Bills running game also came up big when it had to, accumulating 141 yards. Bryson rushed for 60 yards on 13 carries while Sammy Morris picked up 45 on 10 runs. Antowain Smith finally saw some action, carrying three times for 13 yards. Flutie took off five times for 23 yards.
Jay Riemersma led all receivers with 6 grabs for 49 yards Sammy Morris and Eric Moulds both had 4 receptions while Peerless Price caught 3 for 36 yards. Moulds streak of 3 straight games of over 100 yards receiving came to an end.
The conditions at Foxboro Stadium were less than perfect, especially after the rains started in the first quarter.
"It just got sloppy out there and it was hard to grip it and rip it," said Flutie. "I was very tentative about throwing the ball because I didn't want it to slide out, so I had to be careful with the ball and let our defense win the game. At the end we had to take some chances and it paid off. This team had the confidence going down the wire."
Christie also had to be conscious of the field conditions.
"It was wet and the balls were getting heavy," the Bills all-time leading kicker said about his 48-yard game tying kick. "I wanted to make sure it got there without hooking too much. If I leave it outside, I know that it's going to hook a little bit and I guess it hooked enough."
"My big thing was where we were lining up and the condition of the field where we were. For the 48-yard one the field was nice and the shorter one it was chewed up."
Like they did in overtime, the Pats called timeout right before Christie attempted to tie up the game in the last seconds of regulation. After the timeout, the Bills offense came on and Flutie threw a strike to Price at the 1-yard line. However, that was called back because of interference and Christie had to kick 15-yards further back.
"Part of my job is to go in when you're supposed to and then when they call you in sometimes you get called off," Christie said. "I just try to block everything off, try to hit the ball solid and just don't let things bother me."
Belichick was contemplating putting Bledsoe back into the game after his QB suffered an injury to his throwing hand.
"I thought that Drew could have gone back into the game, but there were some throws he didn't feel he could make," Belichick said. "John (Friesz) had the majority of the work during the last couple of weeks and that is why he played…If Drew felt he could have made the plays he would have been in there from the beginning. He didn't feel like he could make all the throws he could make."
"When I was throwing on the sidelines, my feeling was I wasn't throwing accurately to help the team," added Bledsoe.
Belichick talked about what happened and what could have been.
"First of all we missed some opportunities," Belichick said. "We had some opportunities at the goal line. We threw a ball that should not have been thrown. Defensively, we had a couple of errors at the end of the game where (Jeremy) McDaniel got down the seam."
Wade Phillips, who has been having a hard time keeping his quarterbacks under control, doesn't know what to make of his team.
"I don't know if we're a real good team that's lost some close games, or a real bad team that has won some in the last seconds," a seemingly confused Phillips said. "We're learning to win, and it is certainly important to win a division game on the road." Phillips, who's team is now over .500 again at 5-4, still has to take the bull by the horns and get the Bills on a roll in order to make the playoffs.
"It's tough every time we come in here obviously," Phillips talked about the visit to Foxboro. "I thought we had control of the game and then the guy makes a 47-yard field goal against the wind at the end of the half, and it really fires them up. Our defense played tremendous goal-line defense, as they scored on fourth down about the 20th time they had a shot, so I'm really proud of them."
Copyright © 2000 Bills Thunder & Rick Anderson, all rights reserved.
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