Bills, Henry stop Flutie-led Chargers

The first 51 minutes, 37 seconds of Buffalo's 20-13 win over the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 15 flat-out bored people. Up to that point, two-dozen chartreuse-jacketed police officers generated the most excitement when they stopped this violent fan fight in the end zone that ended up looking like a fluorescent-colored jacket convention.

 

And Gerry Austin's officiating generated the second-most excitement, when his crew called three exhilarating pass interference penalties on San Diego, which helped set up Buffalo's first 10 points – more about that later.

But then something really, really exciting happened to replace all those awesome moments of excitement.

San Diego's No. 7 trotted onto the field and relieved struggling quarterback Drew Brees with eight minutes, 23 seconds remaining in regulation; the Bills leading 13-10.

Yes, it was Doug Flutie, in his first action all year. Wouldn't you know it? It happened in Buffalo of all places! And wouldn't you know it? Flutie promptly completed a 47-yard pass to Curtis Conway – a ball that the receiver bobbled before pulling it in.

Flutie Magic! Is there any end?

This was looking like a new chapter in the quarterback's autobiography and the movie of his life. Flutie led the Chargers six more yards down field, with ex-Bill Steve Christie kicking a 53-yard field goal to tie the game at 13 as time wound down to five minutes, 45 seconds.

Flutie! Flutie! Flutie!

"It was fun," Flutie said. "It really was. It was fun to hear it from the crowd a little bit and step into a situation where we were behind and have the opportunity to go and try to win the ball game."

The crowd greeted Flutie with cheers and boos. The people who were booing were probably just nervous that the quarterback would come back and haunt his old team the way he did in San Diego last season, running for the game-winning score with one minute, 10 seconds remaining.

Unfortunately, Flutie couldn't rally his team this time. Of course, next week it's back to the bench; fun while it lasted.

"Let's set the record straight," Flutie said. "Drew is the starter of this team and he is the guy."

For the Bills, Travis Henry was the guy. Buffalo answered the Chargers' field goal with a 64-yard drive in which Henry generated 53 yards on the ground. Henry's 26-yard touchdown run with 52 seconds left gave Buffalo the 20-13 win (see "The Big Play"). The second-year back rushed for 144 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns.

"I have been waiting for an opportunity like this all season," said Henry. "And today I had the chance to carry the football team. I am happy that I stepped up to the plate."

He sure did. He out-dueled Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, one of the NFL's leading rushers. Tomlinson finished with 110 yards and a touchdown.

"Travis made a lot of runs after contact today," said Gregg Williams. "He did a fantastic job. Our offense line had some tough battles up front and any time you go against a guy like Junior Seau, who can cause havoc by getting initial penetration, it is difficult to run the football. But our offensive line stymied him and Travis did a great job on some of the penetration that we got just by making runs out of nothing. He is playing very well and very confidently right now."

The only nick on Henry's game was when he fumbled the ball in the third quarter – Buffalo up 13-10 – which the Chargers recovered at the Buffalo 43.

"When I was running through some defenders, a guy came up from behind and hit it out," Henry said. There was not much he could do on that play. He had already broken some tackles and was running to daylight. He has certainly had fumbling problems this year, but he hadn't had a crucial fumble in a while.

"Travis has done a lot to rectify the problems that he had early on in the season. He squeezes the ball." Bledsoe said. "Any time a guy has a lot of touches, there will be times when fumbles happen. But Travis is such a unique player, and with his ability to run through tackles, he made the extra yards."

Fortunately, the turnover meant nothing as Buffalo stopped the Chargers offense, forcing an incompletion on a fourth and four from the Buffalo 23.

"It was a big stop," said Williams. "Those are the kinds of things we been wanting to happen earlier in the year. The fact that it happens now is great. It was a big play in the ball game."

For Buffalo's offense, Henry and the referees made the biggest plays of the game. Drew Bledsoe completed 11 of 33 passes for 107 yards and no interceptions. It was among his lowest yards passing in a game for his career.

But the officials really helped Buffalo move the ball, granting the Bills 86 yards on four pass interference penalties that just didn't seem to be too flagrant. No matter. The Bills fans were happy. So were the Bills.

Bledsoe, however, couldn't have been happy about his overall performance. He conceded that a mighty stiff wind that blew from the west affected him.

"It was a tough day to throw the ball on both sides. (But) overall, I think (the Chargers) did a nice job defensively. They did a lot of things blitz wise, to try and get some pressure," he said. "Then they grabbed and held our receivers to try to keep them from getting off the ball. And when we had shots down field, they just felt free to grab them so we could not hit the big plays."

Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said, "We ended up defensively (having) played well, except we had penalties, and you can't do that and be successful in this league."

So San Diego lost, despite Buffalo not getting a very good performance from Bledsoe.

"We have been talking a lot that this team needs to rise up and play around Drew," Williams said. "We shouldn't always have to lean on Drew. Our team needs to get better around him and, for the most part, there were a lot of different contributing areas of the team to help win this football game and it was called a team win. Our guys believed that they could win this football game and they did."

Christie gave San Diego a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, before the Bills and Henry responded with a four-yard touchdown run on the ensuing series. Mike Hollis gave Buffalo a 10-3 lead in the second quarter, but the Chargers responded with a two-yard touchdown run on the ensuing series. Bledsoe then drove Buffalo to the San Diego 18 where Hollis kicked a 36-yard field goal with one minute, eight seconds in the half to take a 13-10 lead, where the teams stayed until the fourth quarter.

Big play

Bills' ball, first and 10 from the San Diego 26, one minute, one second remaining in regulation, game tied 13-13.

Travis Henry lined up as the lone tailback with receivers Peerless Price and Josh Reed close to the right side of the line. Tight end Jay Riemersma, a few steps behind the line of scrimmage and in back of Price and Reed, went in motion left then right. Bledsoe handed off to Henry who followed Ruben Brown's lead block right. Brown had pulled unimpeded toward the right side.

Right tackle Mike Williams, right guard Marques Sullivan and Riemersma effectively pushed the Chargers line back.

Brown then cut off strong safety Rodney Harrison, using the back of his body as a shield, and Price blocked out cornerback Alex Molden. Henry was the man the rest of the way, speeding around the right corner. San Diego middle linebacker Donnie Edwards took a bad angle and couldn't catch Henry as he turned the corner. Then the second-year back outran Quentin Jammer and Keith Lyle for the game-winning score.

"We called 24 power. That was a bunch formation to the right," said Bledsoe. "24 power hadn't really been a featured play in the game plan. But Kevin (Gilbride) came up with the call, and Travis did a great job of getting to the corner … Our guys obviously did a great job of smashing everything down and we pulled Ruben around the corner to lead on it and did a great job … We hadn't run that play all week."

Travis Henry said, "It was a play call to the right hand side. Ruben Brown did a great job going up inside and the outside was wide open. I saw daylight and scored."


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