The Washington Times - October 26, 2009, 09:50AM

Did you see the story on ESPN.com about how the NFL might start equipping its umpires with helmets? Obviously, the middle of the field is turning into a no-man’s land for the Men in Stripes – probably because, in addition to all these receivers running all over the place (and all these defenders chasing after them), you’ve now got beefy defensive linemen dropping into coverage (and occasionally stepping on the ump’s toes).

Of course, it’s only a matter of time before the Neanderthal Element – Ray Lewis, Rodney Harrison and their compadres – start complaining about the league “coddling” umpires. “They should put a dress on ’em,” one of them will undoubtedly sniff. “Who do they think they are, quarterbacks?”

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You’ll know the problem is getting out of hand when you’re perusing the NFL injury reports some morning, and there’s a separate listing for umps:

Garth DeFelice (back), questionable; Butch Hannah (knee), doubtful; Undrey Wash (hamstring), game-day decision.

Maybe we should just surround these guys with orange highway cones – or park a police cruiser next to them with its lights flashing. Then again, perhaps this is part of a larger trend, one that began when Major League Baseball put helmets on its base coaches. (Next: Flak jackets for cheerleaders.)

Just wondering: Are the helmets going to have facemasks? If so, what will the penalty be for grabbing the mask of the umpire? Half the distance to the goal line – from anywhere on the field? Immediate expulsion and a fine of one game check? Two weeks’ banishment to the United Football League?

I’m sure the Competition Committee will sort it all out.

* * *

Other observations from my La-Z-Boy luxury box:

* The Patriots beat the Bucs 35-7. The Colts beat the Rams 42-6. The Chargers beat the Chiefs 37-7. This is what good teams are supposed to do to bad teams. And it’s why the Redskins are so very far from being a good team.

* I love watching the Pats’ Wes Welker run. Actually, he doesn’t run so much as skitter – always keeping his legs under him so he can change direction at a millisecond’s notice. He’s like a boxer who’s hard to land a solid blow against, a master of bobbing and weaving and using his blockers.

* Congratulations are in order for Wes, by the way. His 14-yard score against the Bucs gave him a touchdown on two different continents in consecutive weeks. (He also had a TD in Denver in Week 5. What do you suppose the record is for Most Time Zones Scored In, Season?)

* I’m just going to say one thing about Alex Smith, the forgotten First Pick of the 2005 Draft, who came off the 49ers bench in the second half and played lights-out (15 of 22, 206 yards, three touchdowns) against the Texans: He’s still only 25. Smith came into the league, remember, at 21. How many quarterbacks have been handed the keys to an NFL offense at such a young age – when they were still on their learner’s permit, so to speak? (I can think of only one in recent years: Drew Bledsoe with New England in 1993. Alex hasn’t gotten off to the start Drew did, but it’s not too late for him.)

* Speaking of quarterbacks and benches, the Raiders finally sat down JaMarcus Russell. It’s JaBout time.

* I’m beginning to think the Saints are one of those rare teams that can outscore any difficulty it runs into (e.g. an uncharacteristic three-interception afternoon by Drew Brees). Their 22-point fourth quarter surge that pushed them past the Dolphins 46-34 was positively scary.

* Found myself rooting for the Cowboys’ Miles Austin to top 200 receiving yards for the second straight week. Why? Because nobody’s ever done it, that’s why. Not Jerry Rice. Not Randy Moss. Not Burt Reynolds in “The Longest Yard.”

In fact, only five players have ever had two 200-yard receiving days in the same season, never mind back-to-back weeks – the Packers’ Don Hutson in 1942, the Giants’ Gene Roberts (a running back!) in ’49, the Houston Oilers’ Charley Hennigan in ’61, the Chargers’ Lance Alworth in ’63 and the Jets’ Don Maynard in ’68.

That’s right, folks, it’s been 41 years since a receiver had two 200-yard games in a season. (Surprised me, too.)

Austin, who piled up 250 yards against the Chiefs in Week 7, had 171 yards against the Falcons on Sunday with lots of time left – 12:14 to be exact. Alas, Tony Romo targeted him only once more and failed to connect (two plays later, with about 11 minutes to go). Talk about a missed opportunity.

FYI: Hutson and Hennigan both had two 200-yard games in the space of three weeks. That’s as close as anyone has come to having two in a row.

* I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (if you’ll pardon the reiteration): Jay Cutler has too many off days to take a club very deep into playoffs. So far this year he’s had three games with a passer rating above 100 and three with a rating below 80. This is why the Bears are 3-3 – and why the Broncos went 8-8 with him last season. He’ll break your heart.

* Stuff I never saw coming:

1. The Bengals being 5-2 (with one of the losses resulting from a fluky deflected pass).

2. The Giants not rebounding from their New Orleans no-show to put the Cardinals in their place at the Meadowlands.

3. Ricky Williams, at the age of 32, running like an Absolute Maniac for Miami. This week he had a 68-yard run. Last week he had a 59-yard reception. He’s averaged better than five yards per rush in all but one game. What on earth has gotten into the man? And more importantly, does he have a prescription for it?