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Johnson faces tough return for Bills


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 19, 2000

CHICAGO -- Perhaps no quarterback in the NFL has more pressure on him today than Buffalo's Rob Johnson.

Johnson returns to the starting lineup for the Bills after Doug Flutie posted a 3-1 record as a Bills starter while Johnson healed on the sideline. Now Buffalo coach Wade Phillips is going back to Johnson in what surely will be a difficult game.

In fact, many observers in Kansas City believe the Chiefs are better off facing Johnson than Flutie. The past two weeks saw K.C. lose to Oakland's Rich Gannon and San Francisco's Jeff Garcia. Johnson has mobility, but he's much more predictable than Flutie.

But, to Phillips, any shortcomings the Chiefs might have defensively don't matter.

"You've got to make a decision who you think you can win with," Phillips said. "I think we can win with both of them, so it's not a hard decision. We went into the season thinking that Johnson was the guy that would carry us all the way. He got hurt. Doug came in and did a real good job like we knew he would. Now, Johnson's well.

"I don't think there's any big, monumental decision here. This is the decision we went with to start with. Not a whole lot has changed."

Some things have changed with the Bills, because of injury. The Bills secondary is banged up and versatile Sammy Morris is out. Johnson's 2000 record may drop to 3-4 for circumstances out of his control, but that won't stop people from calling for Flutie.

FAVRE OUT?: Green Bay's Brett Favre holds the record for most consecutive starts by a quarterback, but his determination to play against the Colts today despite a bruisedfoot has little to do with the streak of 135 regular-season games.

The streak means a lot to Favre, not because of the record books but because it typifies his toughness. He also, surprisingly, wants to stay in so he doesn't lose his job to Matt Hasselbeck. That seems so improbable, but it was Favre who took Dan Majkowski's job in September 1992.

"I got my job from an injury," Favre said. "I've never looked back, but I also know how important it is to be in there. Because as important as any players is to that team, you can easily be forgotten, by the next guy."

Favre also would like to play against Peyton Manning, whose dad, Archie, was Favre's boyhood football hero.

DIGGING DOUG: Falcons coach Dan Reeves bumped Dan Kanell to No. 3 this week. It didn't help that Kanell was 14-of-34 for 126 yards against Detroit last week, but Reeves said the move also was made so the team could get more reps to rookie Doug Johnson.

The Falcons may be in position to get a quarterback such as Purdue's Drew Brees, but if Johnson gets a chance to show his mettle and shines, Atlanta may go in another direction with that pick.

SCARE TACTIC?: Speculation that Minnesota will move to the NFC West in realignment sounds fishy to me. The storyline out of Minneapolis this week was that the team might shift to the west in anticipation of a franchise relocation because Red McCombs wants a new stadium.

If the Browns could leave Cleveland, anything is possible. But the "preliminary discussions" sound more like a bluff to get the Minnesota state legislature to help fund a new stadium. Moving the Vikings to Los Angeles would be like moving the Eskimos to Ecuador, and a good reason to stop following the NFL.

The Vikes should not only get a new stadium, but they should go back outside and play in the kind of freezing cold that only Fran Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters could enjoy.

TOUGH BREAK: The news out of Arizona is not good for Tarpon Springs' Mike Gruttadauria.

Gruttadauria, who signed with the Cardinals in the off-season after helping the Rams to a Super Bowl title as Kurt Warner's center, began feeling a shooting pain down his arms Tuesday night. Medical personnel summoned to his home had him check into a hospital and it was discovered he had a herniated disc, a career-threatening injury.

"His pain right now is absolutely incapacitating," Cardinals orthopedic surgeon Russell Chick said. "That's what drives the need for the (surgery) to be done sooner than later. Any time you have a herniated disc in the neck in a professional football player, it certainly could be career-threatening although there are certainly football players who have had this same injury, this same surgery and come back and played."

Gruttadauria, who went to Central Florida, overcame long odds to become a success in the NFL. Let's hope he's able to bounce back and continue an inspiring career.

ET CETERA: RB Jerome Bettis on last week's 26-23 loss in OT to the Eagles, in which the Steelers blew a 10-point lead in the final 3 minutes of regulation: "Yeah, I had time to digest it last night and it came back up. It's a sick feeling." ... San Francisco's Wade Richey, who is 2-of-7 on field goal attempts since having a potential game-winner blocked against Oakland, said "If I'm not doing the job, I may personally walk up there and say, "Get rid of me.' " ... Five of Dallas' final six opponents rank in the Top 10 in defense: No. 1 Baltimore, No. 7 Tampa Bay, No. 2 Washington, No. 8 N.Y. Giants and No. 5 Tennessee. Only Minnesota does not rank in the Top 10. ... The Raiders, averaging more than 140 yards a game entering the Denver game, rushed for 38 yards on 18 carries without Tyrone Wheatley against Denver.

- Information with other news organizations was used in this report.

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