AFC East: Doug Flutie

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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Buffalo Bills history. Yesterday, we featured Scott Norwood's "Wide Right" kick against the New York Giants, and tomorrow we'll highlight Don Beebe chasing down Leon Lett to prevent a Dallas Cowboys touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII. Please vote for your choice as the Bills' most memorable play.

Score: Titans 22, Bills 16
Date: Jan. 8, 2000 Site: Adelphia Coliseum

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Which is the most memorable play in Bills' history?

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    55%
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    26%
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    19%

Discuss (Total votes: 36,628)

Can the Bills ever catch a break?

The Bills were one of the NFL's best teams of the 1990s, appearing in the playoffs eight times that decade. Yet just like their heartbreaking loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XXV, the Bills ended their 1999 season in stunning fashion.

These weren't the Bills once led by Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, but it was still a respectable group. Three years after Kelly's retirement, the Bills were riding the hot hand of 37-year old quarterback Doug Flutie. An 11-5 record behind Flutie was enough for a wild-card berth and an opening-round tilt with the Titans.

But it wasn't Flutie who got the call in Nashville, Tennessee. Instead, the Bills turned to backup Rob Johnson, who was impressive in a blowout win in the regular-season finale -- when Flutie was rested. Johnson didn't have nearly the same success against the Titans, mustering 131 yards on 10-for-22 passing with no touchdowns.

Instead, the game turned into a defensive battle, with two second-half rushing touchdowns by Antowain Smith putting the Bills in position to win the game. The seesaw contest continued late in the fourth quarter, when the Titans pulled ahead on a field goal only for the Bills to march back downfield and take a one-point lead with 16 seconds remaining.

After kicking the go-ahead field goal, Steve Christie stayed on the field for the ensuing kickoff. Trying to prevent a big return, Christie directed his kick shorter, so that it was fielded by fullback Lorenzo Neal. That began one of the more improbable plays in NFL history, with Neal pitching it to tight end Frank Wycheck, who heaved it across the field to wide receiver Kevin Dyson.

Forward pass? Lateral? As fans and players tried to figure out if Wycheck's pass was legal, Dyson sprinted down the left sideline and into the end zone. It was over. The Bills had been shocked … again.

The Titans carried their momentum all the way to the Super Bowl, a loss to the high-flying St. Louis Rams, while the Bills have never recovered. Since they walked off the field in disbelief on that day 14 years ago, the Bills haven't appeared in the playoffs and have finished with a winning record only once, in 2004.

AFC East links: Ochocinco still acclimating

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
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Buffalo Bills

Speaking at a concussion-awareness event, former Bills and Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie said he suffered three concussions where he had memory loss during his career and that he avoided recovery testing. "I intentionally blew off the testing so I could get back on the field," Flutie said. "I was really playing with fire."

Tonight's preseason finale against the Lions will serve as a final audition for several players hoping to make the final roster.

The Bills have approached receiver Roscoe Parrish about a contract extension.

Miami Dolphins

During the team’s kickoff luncheon Wednesday, coach Tony Sparano quoted "Gladiator" in a fiery talk with invited fans and players. “If you win the crowd, victory belongs to you. ... This group will win the crowd. They’ll win the crowd. There’s no doubt about it. This team will win. And you should enjoy the journey,” Sparano said.

The Dolphins have a long list of players on the bubble.

In a video interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly, running back Reggie Bush admits he's on mission with Dolphins. "I definitely think coming into this organization I have something to prove,” Bush said. “I’ve been told plenty of times you can’t do this. You can’t do that. I definitely feel like there’ something to prove on a personal level and from a team standpoint.”

New England Patriots

Veteran wideout Chad Ochocinco is struggling to learn the Patriots' system.

Working his way back from shoulder surgery, Matt Light needs more repetitions to shake off the rust.

New York Jets

Running back LaDainian Tomlinson is trying to sell his San Diego-area house for $5.2 million.

Rex Ryan is psyched up by the energy and motivation his defense has shown this preseason.

Name top five QBs for each AFC East team

June, 10, 2011
6/10/11
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Football Outsiders senior writer Mike Tanier has been charting the top five quarterbacks of every NFL team. In his latest column, he broke down the AFC East's best. You should click on the links to read Tanier's reasoning and interesting stats on each selection.

A first-round pick from the famed 1983 draft class appears on every list.

Buffalo Bills
  1. Jim Kelly
  2. Joe Ferguson
  3. Jack Kemp
  4. Drew Bledsoe
  5. Doug Flutie

Quick take: It's strange to see Flutie on the Bills' all-time list. When I arrived in Western New York 11 years ago, the area was hotly divided over him and Rob Johnson. Some fans wanted Flutie to just go away. But I agree with the list and, as Tanier, points out in his piece, this goes to show how few great quarterbacks there've been over the years.

Miami Dolphins
  1. Dan Marino
  2. Bob Griese
  3. Jay Fiedler
  4. Don Strock
  5. Earl Morrall

Quick take: The Dolphins have a two Hall of Famers in their history, but you can see how much trouble they've had finding a replacement for Marino when you consider their fourth- and fifth-best quarterbacks are known for being quality backups. Granted, Morrall came off the sideline to help maintain the undefeated 1972 season. But he started 14 times over five seasons with Miami and just 40 percent of his career games.

New England Patriots
  1. Tom Brady
  2. Drew Bledsoe
  3. Babe Parilli
  4. Steve Grogan
  5. Tony Eason

Quick take: This is the only AFC East team with an active quarterback on the list. The rundown couldn't be more straightforward to me. Maybe you could flip Grogan and Parilli because of longevity and the neck roll.

New York Jets (from a previous Football Outsiders column)
  1. Joe Namath
  2. Chad Pennington
  3. Ken O'Brien
  4. Vinny Testaverde
  5. Richard Todd

Quick take: Tanier notes that if you wanted to rank Sanchez fourth right now, then he wouldn't argue. Neither would I, although I'd be more comfortable with Sanchez replacing Todd on this list. Tanier also claims if Pennington had avoided one of his lost seasons, he might be the greatest quarterback in Jets history -- from a statistical standpoint.

Moulds: Phillips firing still haunts Bills

November, 8, 2010
11/08/10
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Patrick Moran of BuffaloSportsDaily.com picked a good day to publish his enlightening Q&A with former Buffalo Bills receiver Eric Moulds.

Moulds covered a lot of ground in the interview and gave blunt assessments of the current Bills, noting a glaring lack of leadership and his disdain for playing games in Toronto.

Purely by coincidence, Moulds' best comments pertained to the firing of Wade Phillips -- 10 years ago.

Phillips was the last coach to take the Bills to the playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys fired Phillips on Monday.

"I think we were onto something good," Moulds said of the 2000 Bills. "I think that move [firing Phillips] set us back 10 years as an organization, and the Bills are still trying to recover now. We had a playoff team, great coaches and a lot of Pro Bowl players, and the powers that be just ripped it up like a piece of paper. Still till this day it bothers me."

Moulds, without naming owner Ralph Wilson, also pointed a finger at "the powers that be" above Phillips for switching quarterbacks when the Bills began the playoffs after the 1999 season.

Doug Flutie started every game until the regular-season finale, getting the Bills to a 10-5 record. Rob Johnson started instead and remained the starter for the playoffs.

"I thought it was the dumbest decision made in history of pro sports," said Moulds, a three-time Pro Bowler. "It's a story that I wish ended differently."

The season ended with the Music City Miracle. The Bills haven't been in the playoffs since.

Wiley: Jets should sign JaMarcus Russell

July, 2, 2010
7/02/10
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ESPN analyst Marcellus Wiley says the New York Jets should take a chance on free-agent quarterback JaMarcus Russell as an inexpensive reclamation project.

Russell
Russell, the top pick of the 2007 draft, will go down as the biggest bust in NFL history if he can't bounce back from the Oakland Raiders catapulting him from their roster.

"In the situation the Jets have," Wiley said, "they have a head coach in Rex Ryan and an offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, who has experience working with some great quarterbacks and getting the best out of them, whether it's Drew Brees or Doug Flutie or Philip Rivers when he was in San Diego, and now with the Jets in Mark Sanchez.

"Obviously, there's not going to be any pressure for JaMarcus to get on the football field and play. So it would be smart to get the most out of him and use him as an asset for trade bait."

Schottenheimer owns eclectic QB portfolio

January, 12, 2010
1/12/10
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Brian Schottenheimer's prospects for being a head coach never have been higher.

The New York Jets' offensive coordinator has been mentioned for top jobs before, but he always sounded like more of an afterthought. The timing seems right this time, and buzz is building about him becoming the Buffalo Bills' head coach.

Jets head coach Rex Ryan saw this coming a year ago. One of the first and wisest moves Ryan made after beating out Schottenheimer for Eric Mangini's vacancy was convincing him to stick around. Ryan soon predicted Schottenheimer would be a head coach in 2010.

The Jets granted the Bills permission to interview Schottenheimer this week. On Tuesday morning, we talked about Schottenheimer's candidacy during a segment for the "The Howard Simon Show" on Buffalo sports radio station WGR.

One of the topics we emphasized was Schottenheimer's diverse quarterback portfolio. The Bills have mammoth question marks at quarterback, but Schottenheimer has worked with about every type you can imagine: gunslingers, game managers, grizzled veterans, rookies. And he's won with all of them. Most impressive are the names of the young gems he has helped polish over the past eight years.

For Bills fans who are curious, I wanted to provide a rundown of starting quarterbacks Schottenheimer has been associated with as a player, quarterbacks coach or coordinator.

As a player at Florida
Washington Redskins quarterbacks coach
  • Tony Banks
  • Jeff George
San Diego Chargers quarterbacks coach
New York Jets offensive coordinator

Video: Remembering Flutie's big play

November, 23, 2009
11/23/09
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The moment didn't occur in an NFL game, but it involved one of the most recognizable players in Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots history. Doug Flutie sits down with Brent Musburger to relive one of college football's legendary plays: the Hail Mary touchdown pass in Miami that won Flutie the Heisman Trophy.

The interview is presented in two parts, with more reminiscing from Flutie here.

Bills running headlong into another QB quandary

October, 26, 2009
10/26/09
3:46
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills will avoid a quarterback controversy for at least another week.

Bills coach Dick Jauron already has announced concussed starter -- or at least he used to be the starter -- Trent Edwards will not play Sunday against the Houston Texans in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
 Fitzpatrick
 Edwards


The Bills have gone 2-0 with backup Ryan Fitzpatrick running the offense. They haven't transformed into the 1984 Miami Dolphins, but the offense has gotten better with Edwards off the field.

Jauron said "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it" in response to a question about who the starter will be when Edwards has been cleared to return.

In other words, Jauron -- ahem -- might be willing to check down.

The Bills hoped their quarterback quandary days were over when they rid themselves of J.P. Losman and signed Fitzpatrick to be the unquestioned No. 2. Edwards was the no-doubt starter.

An injury, which given Edwards' history was inevitable, wasn't expected to make a difference. Fitzpatrick simply didn't have the pedigree to warrant cries of a switch.

But, in a big way, Edwards has fallen out of favor with Bills fans. They call him Captain Checkdown, and based on the mailbag submissions I receive, they generally would prefer he check out of town.

Bills faithful have been debating the merits of the two quarterbacks on the same roster almost since Jim Kelly retired 13 years ago. Todd Collins, Alex Van Pelt, Doug Flutie, Rob Johnson, Van Pelt again, Kelly Holcomb, Losman, Edwards ...

The Bills are almost there again. Once Edwards is healthy, the Bills will have another QB dilemma to deal with.

Peace of mind defines Belichick's backup plan

September, 1, 2009
9/01/09
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick has a rather simple philosophy for backup quarterbacks.

As he did last year, even before Tom Brady's left knee looked like shredded wheat, Belichick asked himself a question when filling out the New England Patriots' 53-man roster.

"Are you comfortable with them?" Belichick said in a training camp interview with ESPN.com. "If you feel like you can [win] with him, then you probably feel comfortable with him. If you don't feel that way, then that means you're probably looking for somebody else."
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Matt Cassel filled in for Tom Brady last year and won 11 games.

In the span of one calendar year, Belichick has gone from content with his backup quarterbacks to thoroughly unsatisfied with some of the same names.

Belichick's comfort level with Matt Cassel allowed the Patriots to experience an incredible season despite Brady's absence. But none of the quarterbacks on New England's active roster from Week 2 last season is with the club anymore.

Cassel (traded in April for financial reasons), Kevin O'Connell (waived Sunday) and Matt Gutierrez (released a month ago) are gone.

"When you put them in the game, you want the ability to win with them," Belichick said in an interview with ESPN.com shortly after signing free agent Andrew Walter, but with O'Connell still on the roster.

The O'Connell move caught the football community off guard. But he apparently didn't fit either of two basic roles Belichick sees for backup quarterbacks. There are projects and there are stabilizers.

"If you're trying to get your backup guy to eventually be your starter or be able to go in and win for you, and you draft a young player like Cassel, you know he's not ready that first year," Belichick said. "But you hope in time you can get him ready.

"That's the problem with a young quarterback. It takes a little bit of time to develop them. The problem with the old quarterback is it's a year-to-year proposition.

"It's a combination of how far you really think you'll be able to go with that player and if you feel he's keeping it warm until you had your starter back -- but then you're looking for someone else."

The only other quarterbacks behind Brady are Walter and undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer, who has looked sharp in preseason games and perhaps supplanted O'Connell as a less expensive project of choice. Seventh-round draft choice Julian Edelman played quarterback at Kent State but has been moved to receiver.

Belichick has done well with backup quarterbacks in the past. When the Patriots have been forced to use a second-stringer, he has been successful. Brady got his break as a medical replacement for Drew Bledsoe in 2001.

When Belichick stood behind a lectern at Gillette Stadium one year ago and suggested that a quarterback who hadn't started a game since high school could step in for a future Hall of Famer and take New England to the playoffs, it was tough not to laugh.

Or at least it sounded comical at the time. Cassel, emerging from an unpleasant preseason that led to speculation he might not make the final roster, replaced Brady and won 11 games.

The Patriots didn't reach the postseason. The Miami Dolphins also went 11-5 and won the AFC East title on a tiebreaker.

Yet it was an admirable failure given the circumstances.

Belichick has employed different types of backup quarterbacks who never saw significant action. The Patriots kept veterans such as Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie and used youngsters such as Rohan Davey and O'Connell.

"It's an insurance policy," Belichick said. "People have different philosophies on insurance.

"You can spend a lot and have a real high-quality backup quarterback who's one play away from being your starting quarterback. Or you could have more modest expense there and use that extra money to solidify other positions."

But Belichick claimed he never felt apprehensive sending one of his second-string quarterbacks onto the field when he needed to.

"I don't think there was any set formula," Belichick said. "There's a lot of factors that go into it, but in the end that's what you're looking for: a guy you can win with."

Nobody carries a team like Brady or The Bomber

August, 13, 2009
8/13/09
8:35
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

When it comes to carrying a team, Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of the past 35 years.

So says research done by Mark Wald of the underrated and often fascinating ColdHardFootballFacts.com.

Because a high number of pass attempts generally equates to a defeat, Wald wanted to ascertain which quarterbacks have had the greatest success when throwing a lot. He ran the stats from 1960 through 2008, qualifying a game in which a quarterback was asked to "carry the team" as 30 or more passes pre-1978 and 40 or more passes from 1978 on.

Wald's data showed Daryle Lamonica was worthy of his nickname, The Mad Bomber.

Lamonica ranked first with a .703 winning percentage when asked to carry his team. Brady was second at .680. Bart Starr and Bill Nelsen were tied for third at .625.

Big deal, you say?

Then consider this: The average winning percentage is .307 for all quarterbacks in "carry the team" qualifying games.

Some other AFC East quarterbacks of note:

12. Jack Kemp, .490.
14. Dan Marino, .478.
16. Al Dorow, .462.

Wald also listed the quarterbacks with the worst records when asked to carry his team. Here are the quarterbacks with AFC East backgrounds:

2. Joey Harrington, .048.
6. Doug Flutie, .100.
9. Daunte Culpepper, .118.
10t. Steve Grogan, .125.
16. Scott Mitchell, .158.
17t. Gus Frerotte, .176.
17t. Neil O'Donnell, Jets, .176.

Face of the NFL is gone: An ode to the single-bar

August, 11, 2009
8/11/09
3:20
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David Stluka/Getty Images
Punter Scott Player represents the end of the single-bar facemask era.

The NFL went as far as it could to replicate history.

The Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans were in their original duds in Sunday night's Pro Football Hall of Fame Game.

Clubs are wearing throwback uniforms this year in selected Legacy Games to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American Football League, with Canton's preseason opener the first exhibition.

A lone red Buffalo stood proudly on the Bills' helmets. The Titans were dressed like their ancestors, the Houston Oilers, complete with derricks. Referees were on patrol in orange-striped jerseys.

No matter how hard the NFL tries to recapture the olden days, one glaring omission makes it impossible:

The single-bar facemask is gone and not coming back.

(Read full post)

Does Doug Flutie belong in the Pro Hall of Fame?

August, 5, 2009
8/05/09
3:25
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Two more Buffalo Bills will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.

  Flutie

Defensive end Bruce Smith and owner Ralph Wilson will join an honor roll that already includes Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton, O.J. Simpson, Joe DeLamielleure, Billy Shaw and Marv Levy.

There has been plenty of debate about a couple of other Bills -- Andre Reed and Steve Tasker -- who might deserve inclusion.

Pod Vader (I can't believe I just typed that) asserts another name should be considered: Doug Flutie.

That's right, Bills fans. One of the most polarizing players in team history was discussed for a bust in Canton, Ohio, on ESPN's "Football Today" podcast Wednesday.

Pod Vader explains his nomination by stating it's called the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Flutie's gaudy USFL and CFL numbers should be considered. And then there was Flutie's dropkick for the New England Patriots.

Podcast host Jeremy Green had fellow Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson and NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas propose nominees for future Hall of Fame classes. Other names broached: Cris Carter, Dermontti Dawson and Rickey Jackson.

QB tenures in Buffalo have come in threes

June, 10, 2009
6/10/09
8:40
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Trent Edwards is tiring of the questions.

He acknowledges the thrill of playing quarterback in the NFL is worth whatever hassles come with it, but the make-or-break theme that has enveloped him isn't enjoyable.

 
  Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
  Trent Edwards is 12-11 as Buffalo's starting quarterback.

Another question about pressure, a crossroads, put up or shut up ...

"You guys are kind of forcing me to try to think that way," Edwards said Tuesday afternoon after the Buffalo Bills' first minicamp practice. "I get that question a lot. I feel like every offseason I get that question. It's kind of a go-to question to ask a quarterback."

Edwards is entering his third season with Buffalo. That's seems to be about the amount of time a quarterback gets around these parts.

Doug Flutie was here for three years. Rob Johnson was here for four years, the starter of choice for two. Drew Bledsoe was here for three years. J.P. Losman spent three years as the starter before Buffalo gave the job to Edwards.

The town's patience -- and perhaps the owner's -- haven't lasted much beyond three years after Marv Levy and Jim Kelly ran the show.

Since Levy retired as head coach, his next three successors were given similar terms. Wade Phillips and Gregg Williams lasted three years apiece. Mike Mularkey was given a third year but resigned.

That cleared the way for Dick Jauron, who was given a fourth year much to the fan base's mortification.

So the trends certainly point to this being a make-or-break season on several counts.

(Read full post)

After Brady, what's the Patriots' backup plan?

May, 11, 2009
5/11/09
2:20
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  Jim Rogash/Getty Images
  The Patriots showed faith in unproven Kevin O'Connell, left, by not pursuing a veteran to be No. 2 behind quarterback Tom Brady.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Three professional pass attempts were all Tom Brady had when he trotted onto the field for Drew Bledsoe and managed the New England Patriots' first championship campaign.

Matt Cassel had 39 attempts over his first three seasons before he assumed control of the offense and helped the Patriots win 11 games.

The folks at CareerBuilder.com recently posted a list of the top jobs that don't require experience. Cruiseline worker, English-as-second-language instructor, medical transcriber ... they forgot Patriots quarterback. I would have slotted that gig at No. 10, just ahead of movie extra.

What's cool about being Patriots quarterback is that you can start off as background filler and turn into the leading man.

If Brady's reconstructed left knee doesn't hold up as Patriot Nation prays it will, then sophomore Kevin O'Connell apparently is next in line. The Patriots have chosen not to reinforce their depth chart with veteran support after trading Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs.

How risky is that?

Fan logic dictates if an unheralded Brady (sixth-round draft pick) can come off the bench to be a superstar, and an unknown Cassel (seventh-round draft pick) can come off the bench to get within a tiebreaker of the AFC East crown, then O'Connell (third-round draft pick) can come off the bench and run the show, too.

"It's the relative unknown that scares the living hell out of you," former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak said. "Brett Favre might have had it four or five years ago, where all hopes rest on one guy. Now, maybe you're down to two: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  The Patriots' current No. 3 quarterback is Matt Gutierrez, who didn't even make the team following last year's training camp.

"Your season hinges on that one guy. You hold your breath again because you don't know."

Although the Patriots kicked the tires on Kyle Boller and Patrick Ramsey, they have so far chosen not to acquire a veteran quarterback.

Brady's backups are O'Connell, who threw six passes as a rookie last year, and Matt Gutierrez, who was undrafted in 2007, has thrown one NFL pass and didn't make the team out of training camp last year. The Patriots signed rookie free agent Brian Hoyer two weeks ago.

"Ultimately, I don't think they've reached a conclusion," said former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, who writes for the National Football Post. "They haven't had a preseason to really evaluate their quarterbacks and this is the time, May and June, to see where they need to go.

"The course right now is to develop O'Connell and see where they are in the preseason and then make adjustments."

New England can't expect to keep inserting neophyte quarterbacks into the lineup and get away with it.

"I don't think that can be a recipe you can count on," Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson said. "I do think there's some risk. It would be nice to have a veteran in the fold, but they know what they're doing."

Zolak doesn't see the need for veteran help.

"Last year at this time, I would have thought a veteran would be the way to go," Zolak said. "They've gone that veteran route with Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie, but they've never needed to use that guy.

"They went the in-house route with Cassel, developed the guy for four years and that's the route that worked when it was tested."

Zolak and Wlliamson are fans of O'Connell's.

As a sportscaster for "Patriots All-Access," a television show produced by the club, Zolak has seen the 6-foot-5 San Diego State product more than the average reporter.

"Usually, when you see these guys you think Scott Mitchell, and he doesn't move that well," Zolak said. "But the kid has a smoothness to him and is very fluid for his size. He went to his legs a lot his senior year and picked up a lot of yards on the ground."

Said Williamson: "He has all the tools to work with. He's smart. He's big. He's got a nice arm. He moves around real well."

 
  Stan Liu/Icon SMI
  As a senior at San Diego State, Kevin O'Connell rushed for 408 yards and a school-record 11 touchdowns on the ground.

The Patriots have made enough brilliant personnel moves since Bill Belichick took over in 2000 to earn their fans' trust. The staff has monitored O'Connell for a year. If the coaches are confident he can handle the No. 2 role, then many figure that should be enough.

While the Patriots' front office has been praised rightly for unearthing Brady and Cassel in the late rounds, not all of their quarterbacks have panned out. Lest we forget, they also drafted Rohan Davey and Kliff Kingsbury.

The Patriots also must overcome the departure of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the man who called the plays and molded Cassel into an NFL commodity even though Cassel hadn't st
arted a game since high school.

"As long as you have Wes Welker, as long as you have Randy Moss ... they have some weapons," Zolak said. "With Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk on third down, I don't care who the quarterback coach is. It's hard not to be successful with the type of players they have."

The last time Patriot Nation gave their backup quarterback a second thought was back in the Zolak and Hugh Millen days.

Ever since the Patriots selected Drew Bledsoe with the first pick of the 1993 draft, they have gone into the season without worry about their quarterback's health.

From 1993 through 2000, Bledsoe came off the field enough for his backups to average 39 mop-up attempts per season.

Bledsoe was Gibraltar in the huddle. Nobody bothered to think about his backup beyond the possibility he someday might development into Bledsoe's heir -- when Bledsoe was good and ready to abdicate. Alas, we all know that internal bleeding isn't something you can walk off.

Brady entered Game 2 of the 2001 season and remained the starter for the next 128 games, including 17 in the playoffs, until he crumpled to the turf in last year's season opener. A mangled left knee sidelined him for the rest of the year.

So, for the first time in a decade and a half, the Patriots enter training camp hopeful their quarterback will hold up.

A rebuilt knee -- one that was beset by infections early in the healing process -- offers no guarantees. The only optimism emanates from the aura of the quarterback's credentials. He has won championships, married a supermodel, almost helped Ecuador land the 2010 Winter Olympics, scored 42 points to help the Washington Generals beat the Harlem Globetrotters and almost single-handedly brought back the 8-track.

"I think it's a fluke thing with Brady," Zolak said. "I've talked with enough people who think it's almost like his rookie year again. The kid's hungry again and he's back to the old work ethic he had. That's not to say he has a bad one, but let's face it: The guy has a lot of priorities, and his life has changed since he's won three rings. But he's up and going at full go.

"Tom will be back. As good as Manning was, questions with his knee last year, he didn't really get going until about Week 5, and the guy ended up getting NFL MVP. Donovan McNabb came back from it. So it can be done."

But what if his knee doesn't hold up? As much as he's treated like a god, he is human.

"And if something happens to him, they'll go with one of the in-house guys," Zolak said. "They like the guys they have."

Around the AFC East: Fred Taylor hurt again

May, 5, 2009
5/05/09
11:32
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

New England Patriots

Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New York Jets

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