- The Washington Times - Friday, November 11, 2005

Priest Holmes, Daunte Culpepper, Ahman Green, Rodney Harrison, Chad Pennington, Kris Jenkins and Bert Berry are done for the year.

So are the Superdome and, presumably, Terrell Owens.

Last year’s Super Bowl teams, New England and Philadelphia, have fallen to .500 because they’ve stopped playing defense. Indianapolis (8-0) is the class of the league because it finally stopped relying on its ace passer and started playing defense.

Welcome to midseason in the NFL, where San Francisco is on its fourth quarterback but already has matched last season’s victory total of two, and where Green Bay already has exceeded last season’s defeat total of six.

The downfall of the Patriots and Eagles, clearly the top teams of the previous four years, would be more remarkable if not for the collapse of the 2003 Buccaneers and Raiders, who had met in the previous Super Bowl.

Only five of last year’s playoff teams (Atlanta, Denver, the Colts, Pittsburgh and Seattle) are currently headed back to postseason, but the Patriots, Eagles, St. Louis and San Diego remain in contention. Minnesota and the New York Jets lost their quarterbacks while the Packers lost almost every other skill position player on offense.

Cincinnati’s rise to owning the NFL’s second-best record at 7-2 after 14 years out of the playoffs would be more remarkable if the Bengals hadn’t gone 8-8 in 2003 and ‘04 and if their 2005 victims weren’t a combined 17-33 against the rest of the league.

Sixty-something coaches Dick Vermeil, Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells and Marty Schottenheimer are a combined 20-13 and feeling great while St. Louis’ 54-year-old Mike Martz has been sidelined by a bad heart.

Not one of April’s top 10 draft picks has had an entirely smooth rookie year, but last year’s top newcomer, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, has proven no flash in the pan as the NFL’s top passer.

The since-benched Josh McCown of Arizona has had two of the three most prolific passing days and the over-the-hill quarterback trio of Washington’s Mark Brunell, Oakland’s Kerry Collins and Denver’s Jake Plummer each has 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

Atlanta running back Warrick Dunn is having a career year at 30 while Carolina’s Stephen Davis is on pace to rush for 22 touchdowns despite creaky 31-year-old knees. Seattle’s Shaun Alexander is on pace for a record 28 touchdowns while San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson has as many scoring tosses as seven quarterbacks who’ll start this Sunday.

Carolina’s Steve Smith, who broke his leg in the 2004 opener, leads the league in catches, receiving yards and touchdown grabs. Tampa Bay’s Joey Galloway, who turns 34 in 10 days, is having his best season.

The seven kickers with at least 60 points have made an astounding 90 percent of their field goal attempts. Arizona’s Neil Rackers, who had a 69.4 percent accuracy during his previous five seasons, has nailed all 26 of his tries, including eight from 47 yards and beyond.

Take me back to Chicago — Mike Singletary, a Hall of Fame linebacker for the Bears from 1981 to ‘92 and now a 49ers’ assistant coach, returns to Chicago on Sunday for the first time since his retirement.

“That’s going to be one of the oddest feelings I’ve ever had in my life,” said Singletary, one of just six Hall of Fame players who are coaching in the NFL.

Banged-up showdown — Oakland’s Randy Moss, the top receiver of the 1998 draft, and Denver’s Champ Bailey, the top cornerback in the 1999 draft, will finally square off for the first time on Sunday, but not under ideal conditions. Bailey has missed two games and parts of three others with a pulled left hamstring after fighting through a dislocated shoulder. Moss has battled groin, pelvis and rib problems.

The game will be broadcast in Navajo. The Raiders, who already offer their Web site in Spanish, Chinese and German, are also selling a T-shirt with owner Al Davis’ “Just Win Baby!” motto in those languages plus Italian, Japanese, Korean, French, Greek, Tagalog, Russian and English.

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