FOXBOROUGH - It was not a magical victory like the ones we’ve come to expect from Doug Flutie over the past 17 years.
But Flutie, 38, who is the first to say some of his performances are not artistic masterpieces or statistical wonders, showed once again that he wins more than he loses on Sunday afternoons.
Flutie, Steve Christie, and the Bills spoiled the start of the Patriots’ second season with a 16-13 overtime victory. Christie’s 32-yard field goal provided the winning points on a very soggy day at Foxboro Stadium.
Flutie’s counterpart, Drew Bledsoe, jammed his right thumb on linebacker Sam Cowart’s helmet five minutes into the game and backup John Friesz took over for good five minutes into the second quarter.
“My philosophy is I always want to play, but if I can’t play effectively and if I can’t throw the ball accurately I can’t help us win,” said Bledsoe, who remained on the sideline with his thumb wrapped. “Everytime I took a snap I was aggravating it even more.”
Bledsoe had X-rays, which indicated the thumb is not broken. His status for next Sunday’s game at Cleveland is in doubt.
In his place, the Patriots opted for Friesz and not Michael Bishop, who was designated the third quarterback and could not be used until the fourth quarter. Friesz completed 11 for 21 passes for 66 yards and a costly interception, which linebacker John Holecek caught in the end zone as the Patriots were on the verge of tying the game, 10-10, in the third quarter.
The play did not make the wet and sullen crowd very happy.
“It’s not the first time I’ve been booed,” said Friesz, an 11-year veteran. “Michael is a very exciting quarterback and he can do some things that I can’t do out there.”
In overtime, the Patriots won the coin toss but Friesz couldn’t move the team. He was sacked for a 7-yard loss by Cowart, forcing a Lee Johnson punt.
The Bills took over on their 35 and a big interference call on Ty Law, covering Eric Moulds, gave the Bills a 22-yard gain to the Patriots’ 43.
“Even Moulds knew I didn’t touch him,” said Law.
A makeup call?
“I don’t know what that was but we had good coverage on them. That was a bad break for us,” said Law.
A 15-yard run up the middle by Shawn Bryson to the Patriots’ 17 sounded the death knell. With 10:28 remaining in OT, Christie made his third field goal of the game and improved the Bills’ record to 5-4.
Coach Bill Belichick said Friesz was designated the backup over Bishop because Friesz took most of the backup snaps during the bye week practices. Belichick said they had pretty much scrapped the option play because it had had only marginal success.
Friesz’s performance was also only marginally successful.
Yet the Patriots narrowed a 10-0 deficit on Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal into the wind with 47 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Belichick’s defense once again did a fine job of containing Flutie. But the offense struggled. The Patriots had eight shots from the 1-yard line on two series - one in the third quarter and one in fourth - and came away with one touchdown.
Troy Brown, who had five punt returns for 64 yards, returned one 18 yards to the Bills’ 34 midway through the third quarter. Friesz threw it toward Tony Simmons near the goal line and a pass interference penalty was called on free safety Keion Carpenter at the 1.
Cowart and Pat Williams stuffed J.R. Redmond for no gain. Then Friesz fumbled the snap at the 5, but a facemask penalty on Ken Irvin put the ball back at the 1.
“I know I’ll just cringe when I see that fumble on film again,” said Friesz.
Redmond carried and was stuffed again and guard Joe Andruzzi was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty - one of eight New England infractions for 103 yards - pushing the Patriots back to the 15. After a 3-yard completion to Redmond, and another pass interference (on Henry Jones), the ball was back at the 1. Friesz (who had been shaken up while recovering his own fumble but waved off Bledsoe) threw right into the arms of Bills linebacker John Holecek in the end zone.
The Patriots faced a similar scenario early in the fourth quarter, but this one had a happy ending. Brown returned a punt 25 yards to the Bills’ 27. A combination of tough running by fullback Tony Carter and a 17-yard pass to Brown on third and 17 put the Patriots back at the 1. Two running plays were stuffed. A pass intended for tight end Rod Rutledge went incomplete. On fourth down, Redmond ran right through the left side of the Bills’ line for the tying score with nine minutes left.
The Patriots’ defense tightened. Linebacker Ted Johnson made a nice tip of a Flutie pass toward the sideline on the Bills’ next series to force a punt. A 12-yard Brown punt return brought the ball to the Buffalo 43. Friesz led the Patriots to the 26 from where Vinatieri gave the Patriots their first lead of the game on a 43-yard field goal. It was 13-10 with 2:03 left.
Too much time for Flutie.
A Flutie scramble of 11 yards on third down and a third-down pass to Peerless Price for a first down brought the ball to the Patriots’ 24 with 14 seconds left. Flutie, with no timeouts remaining, spiked the ball to stop the clock. Coach Wade Phillips brought the field goal team out but the Bills took a delay-of-game penalty when they couldn’t get the kick off.
Phillips then decided to bring Flutie back for one more shot at the end zone. Flutie didn’t disappoint. He appeared to connect on the sideline near the goal marker with Price, but the official ruled Price had pushed off Otis Smith.
After a review of the play, the call stood and the Bills were tagged with a 10-yard penalty, making Christie’s field goal attempt a 48-yarder. The Patriots tried to freeze him by calling a timeout. It didn’t work. The rain nearly stopped during the kick and the spot on the field was nearly perfect.
Christie didn’t hit it well - a line drive - but it had legs to get over for the tie.
The Bills had opened the scoring on Christie’s 19-yard field goal with 1:19 remaining in the first quarter.
On the next Patriots series, Bledsoe moved the ball down the field - an 8-yard reception by Terry Glenn and a 22-yard leaping catch by Simmons - to the Bills’ 29-yard line. But Bledsoe was whacked by Cowart as he let go of a pass intended for Brown that was intercepted by Irvin.
Flutie then led an 87-yard, seven-play drive, which included a 21-yard pass interference call on Tebucky Jones.
Flutie capped the drive with a 9-yard toss to a wide-open Jay Riemersma, making it 10-0.