Flutie’s CFL years and Music City Debacle given their due in A Football Life documentary

It’s finally Doug Flutie’s turn to be featured in the NFL Network’s outstanding biography series, A Football Life.

While some of these profiles perhaps are for completists only, or are to be savoured mainly by just yesteryear romantics, every football fan should make a point of seeing this one — especially CFL fans.

Ditto Buffalo Bills fans curious to see how the Music City Debacle is portrayed. That is, the inexplicable Flutie-benching/Rob-Johnson-ascension prior to the last-played playoff game in Bills history: the gutting loss to Tennessee in January 2000.

Doug Flutie: A Football Life debuts Friday night.

For more than 20 years, the 5-foot-9¾ playmaker-extraordinaire befuddled defences, vexed talent evaluators, won over coaches and teammates, shamed skeptics and endeared himself to fans of his teams at every level — in high school, at Boston College and all through his topsy-turvy pro career, which took him from the USFL (1985-86), to the NFL (1986-89), to the CFL for eight masterful years, then back down for eight final years in the NFL.

An accomplished speaker and broadcaster now in his own right, Flutie offers apt quotes and insight throughout the documentary, such as his base view of how simple his job really was: “You take your read and you throw it to the open guy.”

But Flutie also reveals how clichéd assessments of his play drove him crazy; that when he failed it was because he was a shrimp, but when he succeeded it was because he was some otherworldly football magician.

Magical? No, it was just a simple bootleg, he counters at one point.

In his first NFL go-round, talent choosers could not overlook Flutie’s vertical shortcoming.

“The NFL was so scared of me. They didn’t know what to think of me. OK, here you’ve won the Heisman, you’ve put up all these numbers, you’ve beat big-time teams (but) you’re too small to play.

“So publicly … they try to say all these positive things, and in the back of their minds they’re like, ‘Somebody else draft him.’”

With his NFL career going nowhere in 1990, Flutie made the courageous, smart decision to take his talents north.

If you think his years in Canada — with the B.C. Lions from 1990-91, Calgary Stampeders from 1992-95 and Toronto Argos from 1996-97 — rate only cursory treatment in this special, you’ll be happy to learn otherwise.

Several of Flutie’s CFL teammates are interviewed, including Dave Sapunjis, his brother Darren Flutie, Pinball Clemons and Paul Masotti — as are then Stamps owner Larry Ryckman and offensive coordinator John Hufnagel.

Amid many clips of his most stunning plays as a CFLer — and good gawd, those — we hear such plaudits as these from Ryckman:

“I truly believed he was the Wayne Gretzky of football.

“What Doug did in these games is probably the best football that has ever been played. I know that is a really bold thing to say, but Doug would do things that you don’t see anymore.”

Well, except sometimes we see it now in Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, truth be told.

A Football Life does not gloss over the financial fallout between Flutie and Ryckman.

“I was getting paid, like, a year late all the time,” Flutie said.

As eventual 10% owner of the Stamps, Flutie apparently wound up as the only player not getting paid during one cash-strapped season. And Flutie claims he never received a $700,000 personal-services payment.

Ryckman is asked on camera if he’s ever going to pay up.

“I don’t think I owe Doug Flutie anything,” he says, laughing.

After winning six CFL MVP awards and three Grey Cup titles in eight years, Flutie accepted an offer from the Bills in 1998 to return to the NFL. The team then signed Rob Johnson and anointed him the starter. But Johnson got banged up in the opener, and Flutie immediately began to conjure his, well, magic.

“Wow,” then Bills head coach Wade Phillips says in an interview. “He just did so many things that were unexpected, that were special.”

Flutie went to the Pro Bowl at the end of the season, earned comeback player-of-the-year honours and signed a new $22-million deal in Buffalo.

Flutie helped lock up a playoff berth for the Bills in 1999 with a week yet to play. Then trouble.

Before the Bills’ final, meaningless regular-season game against Indianapolis, coaches told Flutie to “rest up” for the playoffs while Johnson, the high-priced backup, quarterbacked. Johnson shone in a 31-6 win.

“And then a conversation took place between Wade Phillips and (owner) Ralph Wilson,” remembers A.J. Smith, then Bills director of pro personnel. “And out of that conversation, the head coach walked out and said, ‘We’re making a change.’”

Johnson would start.

“I love Wade Phillips,” Flutie says. “Wade was one of the most enjoyable head coaches I ever played for. It wasn’t Wade’s decision.”

Ownership meddling of the most destructive, ill-conceived kind.

Tennessee won what’s remembered in most places as the Music City Miracle, 22-16 — thanks to a highly questionable ‘lateral’ on a kickoff return in the waning seconds, which the Titans returned for the winning score.

“In hindsight,” Phillips says now, “Doug probably would have won the game, so that’s kind of the way we look at it.”

A year later Flutie took his talents to San Diego and mentored rookie Drew Brees, who is interviewed.

Flutie concluded his incredible playing career by attempting a dropkicked field goal in 2005 for the Patriots. One hadn’t been made in an NFL game since 1941.

Flutie, then age 43, booted it straight. But too short?

Huh. Not on your life.

Doug Flutie: A Football Life premieres Friday at 9 p.m. EDT on NFL Network, and re-airs three hours later, as well as Saturday at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. EDT.

 

REX ON REVIS:

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan was asked Tuesday what it feels like to see his former all-world cornerback, Darrelle Revis, now suiting up for the hated New England Patriots. “A little sick to my stomach,” Ryan said. The Jets visit the Pats on Thursday night.

 

NO MEASURABLE IMPACT:

Renie Anderson, the NFL’s senior VP of sponsorship and partnership marketing, told a marketing symposium Tuesday that the Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson domestic-violence controversies have had “no measurable impact” on the league’s business, according to Sports Business Journal. “We’ve gone partner to partner, speaking with them to understand their needs and concerns,” Anderson said.

 

EXTRA POINTS:

Cowboys RB Joseph Randle was arrested Monday night for shoplifting and charges with a class B misdemeanour. The team might suspend him … 49ers LB Patrick Willis suffered a sprained toe Monday night in St. Louis, ProFootballTalk.com reported, and is “unlikely” to play at Denver on Sunday night … The Broncos placed LB Danny Travathan on IR/designated for return. He has a cracked bone above his left knee … The Bengals placed WR Marvin Jones on season-ending IR. A broken foot from August never healed enough and he’ll have surgery … Yahoo Sports says the Bengals recently worked out QB Terrelle Pryor.

 

Ralph Wilson Stadium chewing up and spitting out opposing running backs in ’14: Moreno, Woodhead and Ridley so far

First Miami’s Knowshon Moreno. Then San Diego’s Danny Woodhead. Now New England’s Stevan Ridley.

Ralph Wilson Stadium is chewing up and spitting out visiting running backs in 2014 — one per game.

The playing surface isn’t to blame. Nor anything to do with the $130-million off-season renos at the Ralph. Blame fate if you must, as well as swarming Buffalo Bills rush-stopping defenders and their crushing, legal hits.

CHARTERSTo wit:

  •  In Week 2, the Dolphins’ Moreno dislocated his left elbow on his first carry. On his way down upon being tackled along the numbers at the southwestern 35-yard line, Moreno tried to soften his fall by planting his free left arm. A Bills defender fell on him against the outside of that arm, though, and bent it back the wrong way. Moreno missed three games. In his return this past Sunday against Green Bay, Moreno carried the ball just six times for 10 yards but somewhere along the way suffered an ACL injury. On Tuesday the Dolphins placed him on season-ending injured reserve.
  • In Week 3, the Chargers’ Woodhead (my pregame photo of him, accompanying) ran to his left on his first carry, crouched low and got crunched by a pair of Bills tacklers, along the numbers at the northeastern 24-yard line. Woodhead’s right ankle buckled. Doctors determined he suffered a severe high ankle sprain and fractured fibula. The next day the Chargers placed the smurfy runner/receiver on season-ending IR.
  • This past Sunday, in Week 6, the Patriots’ Ridley swept left on his 10th carry. Along the numbers at the northeastern 28 yard-line — just four yards behind the exact spot where Woodhead smucked his ankle — Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore charged hard and dove at Ridley’s legs. Gilmore’s helmet smacked hard into Ridley’s right knee, tearing both the ACL and MCL. Ridley is expected to be placed on season-ending IR.

None of these injuries appeared to be the fault of the A-Turf Titan 50 playing surface, installed in 2011. Just freakish occurrences, after hard hits. The Bills defence is the stingiest in the NFL against the run, allowing only 68 yards per game.

Running backs from the final five visitors to the Ralph this season — the Minnesota Vikings (Oct. 19), Kansas City Chiefs (Nov. 9), New York Jets (Nov. 23), Cleveland Browns (Nov. 30) and Green Bay Packers (Dec. 14) — might want to goose their insurance policies accordingly.

 

Leave it Tom Brady to deflate the Bills and their fans — again

BILLSORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Five head coaches, five general managers and now two owners later, Tom Brady is still doing it.

Still killing the Bills.

(My pregame photo of him, right.)

Really, who else but the 15th-year New England Patriots quarterback would be the one to pinprick the euphoria that had enveloped Western New York all week?

That is, after Terry and Kim Pegula received royal NFL ascent to succeed the late Ralph Wilson as the new owners of the Buffalo Bills.

Brady on Sunday did what Brady almost always did against the Bills when Wilson owned the club. He completed passes all over the field, for 361 yards and four touchdowns, and avoiding serious errors, as the Patriots smoked the Buffalo Bills 37-22 before 70,185 fans.

New England improved to 4-2 on the season, alone in first place now in the AFC East — its accustomed perch. Buffalo fell to 3-3.

Brady improved his career record against the Bills to 23-2. How does he account for that?

“I’m not sure, really, historically,” the wide-smiling, scruffy-faced Brady said in the Patriots post-game interview room. “You just think about a day like this. We had a great game. The guys played really well.

“We made a lot of critical plays when we needed to.”

Like, on virtually every snap of the second half.

Indeed, in his annual stop at Ralph Wilson Stadium it’s in the second half when Brady cranks it up. This time he outdid even himself.

In adding to New England’s 13-7 halftime lead, Brady completed 15-of-17 throws for 274 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to new Pats wideout Brandon LaFell on a pair of precisely placed passes, one far down the field.

BILLSBefore the kneel-down at the end, the Pats had the ball four times in the second half. The result: touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown.

If that sounds familiar, it should. Two years ago the Bills and Patriots were tied 21-21 at the Ralph early in the third quarter when Brady, his fabulous tight end Rob Gronkowski and a different cast of receivers all caught fire — scoring touchdowns on six straight possessions in a 52-28 victory.

So here’s one for fun. The Patriots have had the ball 17 times in the second halves of their past three games at the Ralph (all wins). Nine of those possessions ended in touchdowns, four in field goals, three in punts and one in a turnover (a goal-line fumble).

Yeah, a 3-1 touchdown-to-punt ratio. Sick. Brady in those halves, by the way, is 43-of-62 for 539 yards, six TDs and no interceptions.

How, we asked Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, does your quarterback do this year after year in Buffalo?

“I think you have to give credit to the whole offence,” Belichick said, as drolly as you’d expect in spreading around the credit. “I thought we did a decent job of blocking the front and giving him time. The receivers made some good plays, Tom made some good reads and made some good throws, but it took everybody out there working together.”

Brady began Sunday possessing one of the lowest yards-per-attempt stats (6.3) in the NFL. Some observers inferred it means the Patriots passing attack no longer is lethal downfield, that it’s now purely dink-and-dunk.

In other words, more Brady-is-nearly-washed-up talk.

After a tough first half — in which he completed 12 passes for just 87 yards — Brady started stretching the field with his throws. And accurately.

On the sixth play of the third quarter he threw a deep post to wide receiver Brian Tyms, even though Tyms was double-covered. A third safety was coming over fast. Tyms outfought Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore for the ball in the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown.

If Brady had placed that ball a foot or two higher or behind, Gilmore probably breaks it up.

“You can’t sit there in awe (of Brady) the whole time,” Tyms said. “After a while I just got accustomed to it.

“I wanted the ball more (than Gilmore). I’m not going to run 40 yards without the ball.”

LaFell, the former Carolina Panther who signed with the Patriots as a free agent in the spring, did not hesitate to dismiss thinking that Brady has lost his deep ball.

“That’s one thing you should know about Tom,” LaFell said. “With a resume like he’s got, you should never doubt that guy.”

After Brady connected with LaFell for the first time on a scoring strike with 8:42 left in the game, to put New England ahead 30-14, fans by the thousands bolted up the aisles and out.

They knew how this would end.

Still, Buffalo did not pack it in. Bills quarterback Kyle Orton — in his second encouraging but hardly perfect start — got hot and eventually hit Chris Hogan with an eight-yard scoring toss. Orton hit Robert Woods with a two-point conversion pass to make it a one-score game — 30-22 — with plenty of time remaining, 5:58.

The Pats were penalized on the kickoff and began their next drive at their own seven-yard line. Buffalo had hope. The remaining crowd got loud.

Then silence. Brady did it again.

He completed four passes and in just seven plays, as the Patriots quickly and authoritatively drove 92 yards for the game-icing score — a 56-yard touchdown strike to LaFell, with 2:49 left.

“That guy’s great, man,” LaFell said of Brady. “He’s a winner.”

And at least figuratively, he owns the Bills.

- – -

 

Bills fans go nuts over new owners

BILLSORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – “Terry! Terry! Terry! Terry! …”

As expected, Buffalo Bills fans went crazy before opening kickoff at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.

Many of the 70,185 on hand arrived early to see the special pregame introduction of new Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula. The NFL on Wednesday rubber-stamped the couple’s joint purchase of the team (for $1.4 billion) from the estate of Ralph Wilson, the club’s founding owner who died in March.

The Pegulas were introduced about 15 minutes before kickoff. The couple’s offspring walked out to midfield with them, amid thunderous cheering.

Terry Pegula, the gas-and-oil multi-billionaire, addressed the crowd. Most Bills fans worried incessantly for years, especially since Wilson died, that some carpetbagger owner would swoop in and relocate the club, such as Jon Bon Jovi’s bid group to Toronto.

“There aren’t too many times in life when I’m happy with being second at anything,” Pegula said. “But to follow Ralph Wilson? I’ll accept that.

“Now I know you guys love us. You’ve shown that, I’ve heard it, witnessed it. But you need to take all of that hard drive and that emotion and give it to your football team today!”

They did, to no avail.

- – -

 

Revis shuts down Sammy

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Sammy Watkins caught just two passes for 27 yards against the New England Patriots.

That’s because Darrelle Revis, one of the NFL’s great shutdown cornerbacks, sparkled on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium..

He was matched up in press-man coverage all game long against the Buffalo Bills’ flashy rookie wide receiver. And mostly took him out of the game.

“Twenty-four (Revis’ jersey number) followed him around the whole game,” Bills quarterback Kyle Orton said.

Revis is in his first year in New England, after a one-year stop in Tampa Bay and six standout seasons before that with the New York Jets.

“I tip my hat to Sammy,” Revis said. “I feel like he’s one of the young rising stars in this league. He’s great — he’s a great receiver.”

Nice of him to say. But, really, how did you shut him down?

“My game plan was just try to be physical, and whatever weaknesses he showed me on film, just try to take advantage of them,” Revis said.

And what weaknesses would those be?

“I can’t tell you that,” Revis said, laughing, “out of respect for Sammy.”

Sure.

Huge chance for Bills to send a message to Belichick, Brady and Patriots that their fun run is done in this series

BILLSNothing typifies the overall on-field futility of the Buffalo Bills this century like their miserable record against Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Against Belichick since 2000: three wins, 25 losses.

Against Brady since 2001: two wins, 22 losses.

That’s total dominance by the Patriots, including five wins in a row since Buffalo last eked out a victory in September 2011. It’s due as much to Brady’s killer passing acumen as Belichick’s head-coaching wizardry. See the accompanying chart.

The AFC East rivals meet for the first time in 2014 on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium (1 p.m. EDT, CTV Ontario).

At least by 21st century standards, the Bills appear to have more checkmarks in their favour heading into this meeting than perhaps at any time during their sad-sack streak. Such as:

**    The Bills are tied atop the division with the Patriots, both with 3-2 records. A win by the Bills and they’d not only be a game up on the Pats, and not only be guaranteed at least a wash against them in head-to-head record (that’s the first tiebreaker to determine a divisional titlist), but they’d be two games up inside the division (the second tiebreaker) as Buffalo would improve to 2-0 and New England would fall to 0-2.

**    The Bills’ defence, under new coordinator Jim Schwartz, ranks among the best in the league so far this season: tied for first in sacks (17.0), second in rushing yards allowed per game (71), tied for fourth in interceptions (6), tied for fifth in total takeaways (10) and eighth in total yards allowed per game (325).

**    Until last Sunday night’s 43-17 crushing of the Cincinnati Bengals, Brady and the Patriots offence surprisingly had ranked among the least prolific in the NFL. Even now the Pats rank only 21st in total offence and tied for 19th in passing.

**    Veteran quarterback Kyle Orton breathed new life last Sunday into a Bills offence whose downfield passing attack behind the uncertain arm of struggling second-year EJ Manuel had withered into non-existence.

**    The Patriots’ two losses were decided thumpings at the hands of mediocre teams, Miami and Kansas City — both on the road.

**    Brady (my photo from last year, above, top) was a surprise addition to the Patriots’ injury list on Friday, for an undisclosed ankle injury. He was limited in practice Friday and is officially listed as questionable to play. Although he’d probably have to have no ankle to be kept out of this game, to what degree the injury might hamper his already limited mobility is unknown.

That’s not all.

The topper for the Bills is that Ralph Wilson Stadium is sure to be a loud, emotion-drenched madhouse on Sunday. It’s the first game for the Bills under new owners Terry and Kim Pegula, after 516 games in 54-plus years under Wilson family ownership.

All but higher-priced club seats sold out by Thursday.

“We know the fans will be extremely excited,” Bills head coach Doug Marrone said. “They can play a big role in this game. I really believe in them helping us because they’ve done it before. We’re going to need everybody.”

PATRIOTSAll told, it’s quite the chance for Buffalo to send a message to the Patriots, Belichick (my photo from last year, accompanying) and Brady that their fun run is done in this series.

“Everyone knows what’s gone on in the past,” Marrone said. “I’m not going to bring that up. We talked to our players … We know that we have to play extremely well to win.”

Brady, 37, last Sunday became just the sixth passer in NFL history to crack the 50,000-yard career barrier. He seemed as in command of his skills as ever, completing 23-of-35 for two TDs against a good Bengals defence, just six days after one of the poorest performances of his 15-season career in a blowout loss to the Chiefs.

“As great as last week was, that’s over,” Brady said on Wednesday. “(The Bills) are playing really well, so it’s just about us going out there to try to do our best and play a lot better than we’ve played on the road this year.”

While the easy conclusion to reach about Brady’s bounce-back performance against Cincinnati is that he’s back to his old lethal self, it’s not that simple.

The most shocking Brady statistic you might ever see shows up this week in NFL rankings for fourth-quarter passing leaders. The former Michigan star ranks 41st — dead last among qualifying quarterbacks. He has completed only 37% of his final-quarter passes for no touchdowns, one interception and an awful 38.4 passer rating.

Not even Bills offensive players, though, were under-estimating the three-time Super Bowl MVP this week. Especially eighth-year Bills veteran running back Fred Jackson, who has been on the wrong end of too many Patriots blowout victories in this rivalry.

“New England is New England,” Jackson said. “They’re going to show up and they’re going to be ready to play. Everybody thought they were going to get beat badly by (previously undefeated) Cincinnati last week, and you saw what they did to them.

“This is a team that’s coming in and we have to be ready to play and we have to be ready to match that.”

Jackson banged up an ankle last week in Detroit and, also because of a Friday illness, he’s listed as questionable. But on Wednesday he vowed he’ll play.

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who missed the Lions game after hurting a knee in Houston the week before, returned to practice this week on a limited basis and he, too, is questionable.

The Bills would sure love to have him in there to help shut down the Patriots running game, which twice carved up the Bills a year ago, and to get as much pressure on Brady as possible through a suspect New England offensive line.

If Williams cannot go, keep an eye on one of his two backups, second-year Canadian Stefan Charles. The native Torontonian had a solid game in the first significant playing time of his career in the win in Detroit.

It’s also the first homefield start Orton. Few NFL players get cheered louder than an ascended backup quarterback who shines in his first opportunity. Right — no visible warts yet.

All of which sets the stage for one of the most anticipated mid-season Bills home games in a long, long time.

“I don’t think there’s any bigger games during the season than playing divisional opponents at home,” Marrone said. “You can’t lose those games.”

Not if you’re serious about ending a 14-season playoff drought, lowlighted by all those miserable losses to the Patriots.

- – -

 

Brady kills Bills — the proof

It’s no secret that Tom Brady has feasted on the Buffalo Bills in his career as the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback. The eye-popping stats that back that up:

**    Won-loss record: 22-2.

**    That includes wins in the past 5, and in 18 of the last 19.

**    13 times his Patriots have scored 30+ points.

**    3 times his Patriots have scored 40+ points.

**    2 times his Patriots have scored 50+ points.

**    7 of the wins have been by 4+ TDs.

**    Brady has thrown 54 TD passes against the Bills, far more than against any other foe. Against Miami he has 43 TDs and against the New York Jets he has 32.

**    Brady has thrown for 300 yards seven times vs. the Bills, again most of any opponent.

**   Brady is 495-of-771 (64.2%) for 5,817 yards, 54 TDs and 19 interceptions — for a 100.1 passer rating.

**   In the current 5-game series win streak, Brady has thrown 11 TDs against only 3 interceptions and the Patriots have averaged 39 points.

 


‘Crazy’ atmosphere at the Ralph

Buffalo Bills fans again have been asked to arrive in their seats a half-hour before kickoff Sunday against New England.

PegulaLast month against the Miami Dolphins it was for a pregame ceremony to honour the legacy of founding owner Ralph Wilson, who died in March. Fans thunderously cheered the beloved Wilson.

This time they’ll be paying tribute before opening kickoff to the team’s new owners, Terry and Kim Pegula, who completed their NFL-record $1.4-billion purchase transaction on Thursday.

That the Bills might have been bought by an owner intent on relocating the franchise to Toronto or elsewhere was a fear that had saturated and eaten at the souls of Bills fans for years.

But at Friday’s introductory news conference in Orchard Park, as expected, new controlling owner Terry Pegula assured Western New Yorkers that the team is there to stay. He unsuccessfully fought back tears in explaining as much.

Pegula, a multi-billionaire who amassed his fortune mostly in natural-gas drilling in the Appalachians, later told WGR 550-AM radio host John Murphy that his family’s whole idea in pursuing the purchase was to “try to alleviate our fans’ suffering, and hopefully we have a long run (as owners).”

To a man, Bills players said after the Dolphins game that the fans’ excitement and emotion inspired them.

“It’s going to be even crazier (this time) because it’s a division game, first of all,” Bills receiver Mike Williams said. “It’s a chance for us to be in first place in our division, so I think the game is going to be crazy just within that.

“But to be under the new regime and everything, it seems like a start-over for everybody. It’s going to be crazy Sunday.”

 

 

Don’t be shocked if PKs get a workout

It figures Dan Carpenter and Stephen Gostkowski will get their kicks on Sunday. By making their kicks. As usual this season.

The respective placekickers of the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots have successfully made more field goals than any others in the NFL, each with 13.

That two of the stingiest defences in the league will be on the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium probably means these kickers will be called on at least as often.

Gostkowski hasn’t missed a field-goal attempt this year, while Carpenter has missed just twice. An important asterisk is that Gostkowski hasn’t attempted a single field goal beyond 49 yards. To Carpenter’s credit, he nailed a 58-yarder last Sunday with four seconds left to defeat the Lions in Detroit.

Gostkowski already holds the Patriots club record for most made field goals in a season, with 38 last year. He’s on pace to make 41.