Coaches To Make Big QB Decisions

If Dennis Green and Wade Phillips are to be believed, in the next few weeks they'll bench Randall Cunningham and Doug Flutie, combined record 7-0, in favor of Brad and Rob Johnson.

Brad and Rob aren't related, but they have at least one thing in common: They're likely to be booed the minute they step back on the field.

No matter that Cunningham has become twice the quarterback as a pocket passer than he was in his salad days in Philadelphia. No matter that Flutie sells tickets and cereal, has won three straight and added off-beat magic to a traditional game.

The standard line from any coach about replacements is this: "No starter loses his job to injury."

The small print, in these days of the salary cap, reads: "Especially if he's just signed a $25 million contract (Rob) or a $15 million deal (Brad)."

It was all out there for everyone to see on Sunday.

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  • Cunningham was 17 of 30 for 190 yards with two touchdowns as Minnesota kept pace with Denver at 7-0 by beatinDetroit 31-13. OK, so he threw his first two interceptions of the season, but both were in garbage time and he now has 14 TDs to two interceptions for the season.

    So Green is playing coy, with the help of Brad Johnson, who broke his ankle in the second week against the Rams.

    "I'm ready to play," Johnson said after working out in Detroit before Sunday's game. "But I know Denny has a tough decision."

    Green has the luxury. If doctors say Johnson is 90 percent ready -- or 95 percent or 98 percent ready -- the coach can reply, "I won't play him until he's 100 percent."

    Give the nature of broken bones, he might not be 100 percent until next season.

    Or until Cunningham falters, whichever comes first.

    Flutie is a different story.

    The Bills have won four in a row after starting 0-3 under Rob Johnson, for whom they surrendered last April's top draft pick and then signed to a $25 million, five-year deal.

    Despite starting only one previous game in his three-year pro career, Johnson was decent, even though the Bills were just 1-3 in his tenure. There are few doubts he'll be a first-rate NFL quarterback someday. He was the QB when Buffalo handed San Francisco its only loss Oct. 4.

    But Flutie has been more than decent since taking over when Johnson injured his ribs on the first series in Indianapolis. He's been a winner and the showman he always was.

    He beat the Colts, engineered the last-minute drive that handed Jacksonville it's first loss, then was 18 of 22 for an NFL career high of 282 yards in the 30-14 win Sunday night in Carolina. In the Jacksonville game, he scored the winning touchdown on a busted play on fourth down.

    So the Bills are back in contention in the AFC East, tied for second at 4-3 with the Jets and Patriots, a game behind Miami.

    But it's more than that.

    At 36, after eight years in exile in Canada, Flutie still displays the magic he first demonstrated nearly two decades ago at Boston College. On Sunday, he completed a shovel pass on a rollout and a perfect 82-yard bomb to Eric Moulds.

    That puts people in seats. Bills ticket sales are up since he took over. He has a breakfast food ("Flutie Flakes") named after him. He has fans in New York's northern tier and southern Canada excited again after disappearing about the same time Jim Kelly started going downhill.

    Flutie has been sacked only once in every 30 pass attempts, the best ratio in the NFL; Rob Johnson has been sacked once in every five, the worst.

    Flutie, who signed for about the minimum of $275,000 just to get back in the NFL, says the right thing -- that it's Johnson's job. His salary and the price the Bills paid Jacksonville to get him says it is.

    But Phillips could still invoke that 100 percent healthy rule. Or he can hope Flutie throws a clinker soon.

    The first would be better for all concerned.

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