- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2000

If I were Dan Snyder, I'd send Bill Parcells a box of my biggest, smelliest cigars this week. Why? Because Parcells' Jets did the Redskins a huge favor Sunday by knocking off the previously unbeaten Bucs, 21-17.

How huge, you ask? Here's how huge: Had Tampa Bay won that game, it could have opened an almost insurmountable lead on the Redskins three games (5-0 to 2-3), plus the head-to-head tiebreaker by beating them this weekend at FedEx Field. But now the Snydermen can actually pull ahead of the Buccaneers with a victory (since they would then have the head-to-head tiebreaker). What a turnaround that would be.

Parcells, of course, has left the sideline for the Jets' front office; Al Groh is the coach now and some guy named Mike Nolan is the defensive coordinator. But the team is still Tuna-tough. It rallied from an 11-point deficit in the last few minutes against Tampa Bay and from a 12-point deficit late in the game against New England.

A quarter of the way through the season, the 4-0 Jets are the biggest surprise in the league. Everybody thought they were in a rebuilding mode after they traded Keyshawn Johnson to the Bucs and accumulated an unprecedented four No. 1 draft picks. But Vinny Testaverde has bounced back from an Achilles' tendon injury, Curtis Martin is still Curtis Martin and the defense, helped by first-rounders John Abraham and Shaun Ellis, has been surprisingly solid. The Jets are For Real, all right. Any club with wins over Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Green Bay, the last two on the road, is definitely For Real.

It's amazing how little it takes to be For Real in the NFL these days. If you have some semblance of offensive balance as the Jets do and play passable D as the Jets also do you're a legitimate contender. (And if you have more than a semblance of offensive balance and play more than passable D, you're a powerhouse.)

Take the Giants please. They were 3-0 before the Redskins brought them back to earth Sunday night, but I wouldn't give two cents for their passing game. Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard are pedestrian receivers, and Kerry Collins looked like he was trying to read Braille whenever he scanned the Washington secondary. This is a quarterback who's going to lead the Giants to the playoffs? In the '00s, quite possibly.

There are a number of clubs like that, clubs with playoff-caliber defenses but questionable quarterbacking. The Ravens (3-1 behind Tony Banks) are like that. The Dolphins (3-1 behind Jay Fiedler) are like that. The Lions (3-1 behind Charlie Batch) are like that. The Bucs (3-1 behind Shaun King) and Titans (2-1 behind Steve McNair) are even like that. (Some would put the Vikings and Daunte Culpepper in the same category, but I'm not sure I'd describe Minnesota's defense as playoff-caliber. Two of the Vikes' three victories have come against 0-4 teams and the other was against punchless Miami. Let's see how the D holds up against more formidable competition.)

Norv Turner praised King yesterday, calling him "a playmaker" and a guy who's "unfazed by the situation." "He certainly made some big plays [against the Redskins] in that playoff game [last year]," Norv said.

But aside from his poise, King doesn't seem all that blessed. His arm certainly isn't awe-inspiring. And in the Jets game, his offense produced a grand total of 10 points (the other seven coming on a defensive touchdown). The Bucs can only hope he improves as the season goes on which he probably will. The question is: How much?

But that's how it is with 31 teams and a salary cap. The talent is so spread out these days that even the better clubs seem greatly flawed. You can get off to a 3-1 start without much in the quarterbacking department. Heck, you can get off to a 4-0 start like the Rams have without your defense playing a lick. The idea of the well-rounded team, in the '90s sense, has almost gone out the window. If you're great on one side of the ball as St. Louis is on offense or Tampa Bay is on defense you might win it all.

The Redskins are a lot better off than most. They can throw. They can run. They have a defense that, when suitably inspired, can shut people down. They even rediscovered their big-play offense Sunday night, burning the Giants blitz time and again for long gains. It will be interesting to see how opponents respond to this, whether they back off the Redskins' receivers as Carolina, Detroit and Dallas did or take the Giants' riskier approach.

Norv figures it will be a mixed bag. "I think there are teams who will feel they can match up with our wideouts and will come at us with eight-man fronts," he said. "And there will be other teams like Detroit and Dallas who, because of their cornerback situation, will play us softer."

I, personally, expect the Redskins to see more of the latter than the former. It just makes sense. But this NFL season has been anything but predictable so far. I mean, who thought the Jets would be 4-0?

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