Weekly lineup

  GAME DAY PREVIEW Game time: 1:00pm ET
Buffalo (9-5-0) at New England (7-7-0)
Buffalo 9 5 0 276 213 5-2 4-3 3-1 6-4 4-2 Won 1
New England 7 7 0 269 268 4-2 3-5 3-1 4-6 2-5 Lost 2

FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- Doug Flutie returns home Sunday to play the Patriots. Drew Bledsoe, his spirit and body beaten, will be on his way home a week later when his season ends.

For most of that season, two of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play in New England led teams with solid playoff prospects. Now, only Flutie's Buffalo Bills have a chance.

Bledsoe is lucky to be in one piece after his Patriots fell apart.

"It's football. You get hit," he said. "I'm not going to stay down on the field ever, unless I can't get up. It's really that simple."

Somehow, after absorbing 47 sacks and getting hit maybe twice as much, he's managed to get to his feet and stay in the game every time. Stoically, he claims to feel fine, although he had X-rays Monday on a bruised left elbow that showed a contusion.

"I sit with him on the ride home on the plane and he has more icepacks on him than I do," defensive tackle Chad Eaton said. "That just goes to show that he's a tough kid."

The 37-year-old Flutie is 10 years older and much more mobile. Yet he knows how a strong pass rush can turn a well-conceived play into a desperate attempt to salvage a few yards.

"You end up having to hurry your throw," he said. "If you have all the time in the world, there are a lot of guys out there who can go play quarterback."

Flutie has been doing that well enough for the Bills (9-5) that they would clinch a playoff berth Sunday if they win, Miami loses and Seattle loses or ties.

Flutie, the winner of the Heisman Trophy in 1984 with Boston College, played for the Patriots from 1987 through 1989, then spent eight seasons in the Canadian Football League before Buffalo gave him a chance.

"Our focus is on playing well this week and securing a playoff spot," said Bills defensive end Bruce Smith, who will try to add more sacks to Bledsoe's total. The Patriots "are going to be playing for a great deal of pride, fighting for their jobs."

Coach Pete Carroll is on the hot seat after the Patriots (7-7) played their worst game of the season in a 24-9 loss to lowly Philadelphia that knocked them from playoff contention. They dropped eight passes, turned the ball over seven times and gave up six sacks. Their final game is Jan. 2 against Baltimore.

Bledsoe had a much more direct path to the NFL than Flutie as the first pick in the 1993 draft.

Without a solid running game, he led the Patriots to a 6-2 record this season. But they're 1-5 since, while the Bills are 4-2 in their last six games. The numbers Flutie and Bledsoe have compiled over that stretch are revealing.

Flutie: nine touchdown passes, five interceptions and eight sacks.

Bledsoe: five touchdown passes, 16 interceptions and 25 sacks.

"We're a team that throws the ball. That's what we live and die with and, unfortunately, this season that's what we've died with," Bledsoe said.

Now he must play the team with the NFL's best overall defense and best defense against the pass. Buffalo also was the team that officially eliminated the Patriots when it beat Arizona 31-21 last Sunday night.

"It's really gut-check time now to see how we handle this," New England wide receiver Shawn Jefferson said. "We still have a chance to have a winning season."

Three weeks ago, the Bills won the first meeting 17-7 despite injuries that sidelined running back Thurman Thomas and tight end Jay Riemersma.

Both are healthy now, but New England's cornerbacks aren't. Ty Law is out for the season with a broken hand and Steve Israel missed the Eagles game with an ankle injury.

"All of a sudden, it's gametime and guys have a knack of getting out there and performing, so you don't want to get caught up in all the injuries," Flutie said.

Besides, the Bills would love to wrap up a playoff berth this Sunday rather than try to do it against Indianapolis (12-2) in Buffalo a week later.

"We don't want to have to wait until the last week," Flutie said. "We are very confident, especially playing at home, about that Indianapolis game. But we don't even want to worry about that."

He won't have to if the Patriots offense, which has just seven touchdowns in the last six games, continues to stumble.

"A huge part of our failure this season falls on my shoulders," said Bledsoe, a three-time Pro Bowl player who leads the NFL with 20 interceptions.

That failure, and the fact the Patriots don't have any motivation to make the playoffs, doesn't dim the luster of the game for Flutie against his hometown team.

"We have everything at stake," he said. "Maybe now that they're out of the picture, they're going to relax and go out and just let it fly."

Season schedule and results
Season schedule and results
September 12 @Indianapolis L 14-31
September 19 NY Jets W 17-3
September 26 Philadelphia W 26-0
October 4 @Miami W 23-18
October 10 Pittsburgh W 24-21
October 17 Oakland L 14-20
October 24 @Seattle L 16-26
October 31 @Baltimore W 13-10
November 7 @Washington W 34-17
November 14 Miami W 23-3
November 21 @NY Jets L 7-17
November 28 New England W 17-7
December 12 NY Giants L 17-19
December 19 @Arizona W 31-21
December 26 @New England 1:00pm ET
January 2 Indianapolis 1:00pm ET
September 12 @NY Jets W 30-28
September 19 Indianapolis W 31-28
September 26 NY Giants W 16-14
October 3 @Cleveland W 19-7
October 10 @Kansas City L 14-16
October 17 Miami L 30-31
October 24 Denver W 24-23
October 31 @Arizona W 27-3
November 15 NY Jets L 17-24
November 21 @Miami L 17-27
November 28 @Buffalo L 7-17
December 5 Dallas W 13-6
December 12 @Indianapolis L 15-20
December 19 @Philadelphia L 9-24
December 26 Buffalo 1:00pm ET
January 2 Baltimore 1:00pm ET

Records source: STATS, Inc.

Copyright 1999 STATS, Inc. Commercial distribution without the express written consent of STATS is prohibited.


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