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Dolphins crush Flutie, Bills' comeback hopes

Minutes after the Dolphins squashed Buffalo's championship hopes, Miami coach Jimmy Johnson placed a box of the famed Flutie Flakes on a table in the team's locker room and then crushed them in a jubilant celebration.

Any chance the Bills had of returning to Pro Player Stadium on Jan. 31 was scattered like those cereal flakes. The Dolphins beat Buffalo 24-17 in Saturday's AFC wild-card game and face Denver or the New York Jets on the road next weekend.

"We were excited, throwing Flutie Flakes everywhere and stuff like that," said running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar, who gained 95 yards on 27 carries. "We were pumped. It was a big victory for us."

It was the first playoff victory for Miami in Johnson's four years, and it was obvious beating the Bills meant so much more than just advancing to the next round.

"Playoffs are special," Johnson said. "I think there's a special excitement there, I think there's a special intensity and there is something about a big game that gets all of your adrenaline flowing.

"You can win a "big game' in the regular season and you're all smiles and you feel good about it, but it's not like winning a playoff game. If you win a playoff game, you're beating one of the better teams in the league."

Bills quarterback Doug Flutie, a man so popular in western New York he has his own cereal, almost took away Johnson's reason to smile. The 5-foot-10 quarterback would have gone down in sports lore as the new Miami miracle if he had rallied Buffalo from a 10-point deficit, but the comeback came up achingly short and it was Dolphins defensive end Trace Armstrong who provided the pain.

Looking to throw a tying touchdown from the Miami 5-yard line with fewer than 10 seconds remaining, Armstrong blindsided Flutie, forcing a fumble that defensive tackle Shane Burton recovered to preserve the victory.

"I'm closing in on him and I saw him start to throw the ball and I'm just thinking "hold it, hold it, hold it,' and I got the shot," Armstrong said. "I knew the ball came out. I didn't know how they would rule it, a forward pass or a fumble. I was lying on the ground, just out of it and (teammates) Sam Madison and Jerry Wilson came up and said "It was a fumble, it was a fumble' and I was elated because I didn't think I could play another play."

Armstrong, his teammates and the crowd of 72,698 were undoubtedly exhausted by Flutie's furious comeback. After Dan Marino threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to receiver Lamar Thomas to make the score 24-14, the Beastie Boys' You Gotta Fight for Your Right To Party was played over the stadium speakers. It proved prophetic because the Dolphins had to fight, hope and get a controversial call from the officials before they could party.

Flutie had been the comeback story of the season after returning from eight years in the Canadian Football League to engineer a 10-6 season for Buffalo and earn a trip to the Pro Bowl, but he wanted more.

"I expected to take this team to the Super Bowl this year," he said. "Some people were happy for us to just make the playoffs that's not what this is all about. We have the caliber of players to get there."

Flutie took over after the Thomas TD with 3:42 remaining and guided the Bills to the 10-yard line.

He threw a slant pass to veteran receiver Andre Reed, who came up just inches short of the goal line. Reed thought he scored, and in the aftermath, he was ejected for bumping an official.

The Bills were forced to settle for a 33-yard Steve Christie field goal with 1:33 remaining.

But Flutie wasn't done. Kurt Schulz recovered Christie's onside kick, giving Buffalo new life.

Flutie converted three third downs before Armstrong came up with the play Johnson had been looking for on first and goal from the 5.

"The only thing we told our defense was someone has got to come up with a play, whether it be a pick, a fumble, a sack or something," Johnson said. "With the time running out, somebody had to make a play.

"That is the thing we talk to our players about all of the time. If they can't make plays, then they need to be on another team."

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