Flutie charges in to flatten bitter Bills

American Football: San Diego Chargers 27 Buffalo Bills 24
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There is little love lost between the Buffalo Bills and the San Diego Chargers, and when the two teams faced each other on Sunday night, the pre-match build-up had all the hyperbole and nastiness of a heavy-weight title fight.

Last season, the Bills were torn apart by the personal feud between their two quarterbacks, Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie. Both had their supporters in the locker room and in the interest of team unity, it was decided that Flutie had to go. But the Buffalo blood-letting also extended to the dismissal of their general manager, John Butler, as well as several players and executives.

An astute operator, Butler was swiftly snapped up by San Diego, and on arriving in southern California he signed the services of Flutie plus most of those others deemed surplus to requirements in Buffalo. The bad blood between the two franchises was such that the Bills' owner, Ralph Wilson, said he wanted a win over his deadly rivals more than a Super Bowl championship.

The Bills have never won the Super Bowl, and they did not beat San Diego either, although they came close. The visitors took the lead with less than two minutes remaining thanks to Travis Henry's three-yard touchdown run. From the ensuing kick-off, however, Ronney Jenkins raced 72 yards, setting the stage for Flutie.

As he has done so often throughout a stellar career, Flutie won the game when he scored on a 13-yard scamper. Even then, the Bills still had a chance to tie the game, only for San Diego to block a 44-yard field goal.

Afterwards, both sides attempted to play down the hostilities, while the two former team-mates, Flutie and Johnson, made a point of shaking hands before the kick-off. "That whole thing is over-blown and it's a dead issue now," Flutie said. "It was all very professional. He even made eye contact with me."

The St Louis Rams were probably unable to make eye contact with their head coach, the irascible Mike Martz, following their 34-31 reverse at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. The result ended the Rams' unbeaten record, but after building a 24-6 half-time lead, St Louis literally threw it away.

Their normally productive quarterback, Kurt Warner, tossed four interceptions, while his Saints counterpart, Aaron Brooks, threw three second-half touchdowns. John Carney won the game for the visitors with a 27-yard field goal with one second remaining. "We know we gave it to them," said Martz. "I told the players to put it away and move on. It hurts and it stings, but we have to move on."

The San Francisco 49ers suffered a similar second-half swoon, as they stormed to a 28-9 lead in Chicago, only to lose 37-31 in overtime. The Bears defence had been pummelled by the 49ers quarterback, Jeff Garcia, but finally showed their teeth when Mike Brown returned a Garcia interception to win the contest.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally fulfilled their potential with a brutal pounding of the Minnesota Vikings. Their running back Mike Allstott proved unstoppable, gaining 129 yards and three touchdowns, as Tampa powered to a 41-14 victory. Luckless Detroit remained the league's only winless team after running into Corey Dillon of the Cincinnati Bengals. Dillon opened the scoring with a 96-yard run, the Bengals longest run in franchise history. And the Lions were never able to tame Dillon, who finished with 184 yards and three scores in his side's 31-27 triumph.

Oakland were too strong for Philadelphia in a surprisingly lacklustre affair, while Denver intercepted the New England quarterback Tom Brady four times on the way to a 31-20 win. The traditional whipping boys, Dallas and Washington, both enjoyed rare but welcome victories. The former Scottish Claymore quarterback Clint Stoerner guided the Cowboys past Arizona, while Tony Banks threw a pair of touchdowns as Washington shocked the New York Giants 35-21 to win their second successive game after losing their first five.