The quarterbacks matchup in Sunday's Washington Redskins-Buffalo Bills game is an intriguing battle of contrasts.
The Redskins' Brad Johnson is a strapping 6 feet 5. The Bills' Doug Flutie is 5-10.
Johnson, at age 31, is in his prime. Flutie, at 37, is trying to extend his.
Johnson, with 14 touchdown passes and two interceptions, has been one of the league's most valuable players this season. Flutie, with more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes (10), has struggled.
The Redskins say that Johnson has surprised them with his athleticism and elusiveness in the pocket. But he had two offseason knee surgeries and, compared to Flutie, his on-the-field movements are distinctly gangly. Johnson has 25 rushing yards this season, 282 fewer than Flutie.
Johnson was talking on Wednesday about how a smaller quarterback can hide behind his blockers in the pocket, so that pass rushers can't see him and defensive backs can't read his eyes. "I don't know if it's an advantage to be 6-5 or 5-9," Johnson said, and then caught himself and added: "Or 5-10. I don't want to cut him by an inch."
Then Johnson was asked just how tall he thinks Flutie is, and said: "A lot shorter than me."
Once the joking ended, Johnson made it clear that he respects and admires Flutie greatly. He followed Flutie's career as far back as Flutie's Boston College days, he said. Both men have overcome setbacks in their football careers to become NFL stars and the quarterbacks of winning teams. Johnson was only a part-time starter in college at Florida State, and was a ninth-round draft pick. He spent a season in the World League as part of his apprenticeship. Flutie went 8 years, 9 months and 3 days between NFL games -- the second-longest gap in league history -- playing in the Canadian Football League because no one in the NFL wanted him.
The quarterbacks will be on center stage Sunday at Redskins Stadium, but Johnson said he cannot allow that to become his focus. His concern, he said, must be the Buffalo defense, not competing with Flutie.
"I can't really get caught up in who I play against," Johnson said.
Another thing that Flutie and Johnson have in common is that they are making the plays necessary to win games. Flutie has had his problems throwing the ball this season. But he provided a 17-yard scramble for a first down on a fourth-and-15 play during Buffalo's winning drive last Sunday at Baltimore, and Bills Coach Wade Phillips defends his diminutive quarterback.
"He's still making big plays," Phillips said. "We've won five games, and he's been the quarterback. The quarterback always takes the losses, and I think he's been a big part of the wins. . . . He's done some things, I think, people are not giving him credit for."
WILL HE OR WON'T HE? The Bills are keeping the Redskins guessing about whether star wide receiver Eric Moulds will return from a hamstring injury to play Sunday. During a conference call with D.C.-area reporters early Wednesday, Phillips said that Moulds wasn't ready to practice and he'd be amazed if Moulds plays Sunday.
"I think we're hoping more than anything," Phillips said. "I don't want to bring him back too early. I think it would be kind of amazing if he did play."
Moulds did participate in the Bills' practice later on Wednesday, however. Afterward, Phillips used a familiar line and told reporters in Buffalo he'd be amazed if Moulds plays Sunday.
At Redskin Park, though, Redskins Coach Norv Turner said he expects Moulds to play. . . . BOWIE'S BACK, SORT OF Redskins fullback Larry Bowie did some running on the practice field Wednesday and didn't look particularly good. It was the first time he has been on the field as part of his rehabilitation since he suffered a broken leg during training camp. The Redskins have kept Bowie on the roster rather than ending his season by placing him on the injured reserve list, but it's clear that he is at least several weeks away from playing in a game. Meanwhile, the Redskins don't even seem to need Bowie at this point. Larry Centers is their pass-catching fullback, and Mike Sellers has done a terrific job since inheriting Bowie's role as the run-blocking fullback. . . .
FEELING STRONGER EVERY DAY Free safety Leomont Evans was at Redskin Park on Wednesday. Evans suffered a concussion during last Sunday's win over the Chicago Bears, and has been told by doctors not to resume playing before next week. Matt Stevens is penciled in to replace him in the starting lineup against the Bills. Evans and trainer Bubba Tyer said they're optimistic that Evans will be cleared by doctors to practice next week and play the following Sunday at Philadelphia.
"You think about the worst," said Evans, who indicated he contemplated retirement before being told by doctors Tuesday he wouldn't be taking a serious risk by continuing to play. "But I went in and got the tests done, and it came out pretty good.
"I'm feeling pretty good. I'm still a little tired. My memory's not fully there, and I still have a little headache. From what they're telling me, in a few days I should be back to normal. . . . I want to be out there playing. I hate to take time off, but I have to do what the doctors say."
The Stevens-for-Evans move marks the first time this season the Redskins will be forced to make a change to their starting offense or defense because of an injury. But technically, the Redskins have not started the same lineup in every game. They lined up with two tight ends, Stephen Alexander and James Jenkins, and no fullback for their first offensive play in their season-opening game against the Dallas Cowboys. Centers has started at fullback in every game since then, with one tight end (Alexander). . . .
NOTHING FOR THE BILLS LOCKER ROOM The Redskins have lost to Dallas twice this season. But after watching films of Buffalo, they say the 5-3 Bills, not the Cowboys, will be the best team they have faced this season.
"This is one of the toughest teams we're going to face this year," Johnson said. "It's probably the toughest team we've faced so far this year." . . .
Third-string quarterback Casey Weldon is playing the role of Flutie during the Redskins' practices this week, with second-stringer Rodney Peete filling in during some seven-on-seven passing drills. The tough thing to prepare for, the Redskins say, is that it doesn't just become a street-ball game when Flutie starts his Fran Tarkenton impersonation. The Bills receivers are accustomed to Flutie's scrambling and know how to adjust their pass patterns, and the Buffalo offense retains some measure of discipline even when it appears that chaos has ensued.
"He's a terror out there, especially when he starts scrambling," Redskins linebacker Shawn Barber said. But "even when he's moving, there's definitely a method to the madness. It's not just everyone doing their own thing. They definitely have practiced their scramble patterns."
Then, as Stevens said, there's the other problem: "You can't see him in the pocket."