Friday, November 9, 2001

It is midseason for some teams, and the NFL standings are beginning to shake out. Oakland, St. Louis and Chicago seem to be cruising to the playoffs. Detroit, Carolina, Buffalo, Kansas City and Jacksonville can start planning for 2002. And this being the parity era, more than half the teams, 17 of 31 to be exact, are within a game of .500.
The upper echelons of the team rankings on offense and defense in both yards and points are full of the current playoff-bound teams with one glaring exception. Kansas City (2-6) is statistically one of the AFC’s better teams. The Chiefs have the AFC’s No. 2 offense and best red-zone defense. Another area where the numbers don’t add up is red-zone offense. Tennessee (3-4) has the AFC’s best. Pittsburgh (5-2) has the AFC’s worst.
And how about Atlanta’s unappreciated Chris Chandler leading the NFC in passing on third down and in the fourth quarter? Or Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck, last in the AFC quarterback ratings, leading the conference in third-down passing?
Trivia time
Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning is two shy of 100 touchdown passes. Having played in just 55 games, Manning should reach 100 touchdowns quicker than any passer other than the retired Dan Marino (44) and Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas (53). Green Bay’s Brett Favre did it in 62. Who are the next two quarterbacks on the list? (Answer below.)
Stand by your man
When it comes to protecting Chris Chandler, nobody does it better than his wife, Diane. As her husband was being sacked six times by New England last Sunday, she yelled at some fans who were screaming for her husband to get hurt so that rookie backup Michael Vick could play. Fullback Bob Christian’s father had to step in to break up a possible fight when the fans threw a can at her. The daughter of ex-49ers quarterback John Brodie should be used to rowdy fans.
Arizona had unusual misfortune strike last Sunday when kicker Bill Gramatica and punter Scott Player were hurt in the first half of the loss to Philadelphia. Gramatica was able to pop his separated right shoulder back in place and wound up doing both jobs because Player’s ankle sprain was serious enough that he’ll miss this week’s game against the Giants.
On the run Wonder why Tampa Bay, one of the preseason Super Bowl favorites, is 3-4 and three games out in the NFC Central? All-Pro defensive tackle Warren Sapp has only one sack, and receiver Keyshawn Johnson hasn’t reached the end zone on any of his NFC-best 52 catches (Hall of Famer Raymond Berry holds the record with 75 scoreless catches for Baltimore in 1961).
But the Buccaneers’ poor run defense has been more critical. Tampa is 22nd against the run, allowing 124.1 yards per game, its worst mark in nearly a decade. In the last four games, three of them losses, the Bucs have surrendered 608 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per carry. Tampa gave up 39 runs of at least 10 yards all last season. Through seven games this year, the defense has already surrendered 27 such plays.
“We’re playing a little soft right now,” Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. “We’re not knocking guys back the way we need to. We’re not taking blocks on the way we need to.”
Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb, the second pick in the 1999 draft, and Minnesota counterpart Daunte Culpepper, taken ninth, square off Sunday for the first time. They have more in common than just being gifted passers and runners. Both led their teams to the 2000 postseason in their first full years as starters. Both won a playoff game. Both then came up short against the New York Giants. Both have 41 career touchdown passes and 24 interceptions. Culpepper is 15-10 as a starter. McNabb is 16-9.
Old Friends (Part I)
New York Jets coach Herman Edwards will match wits Sunday for the first time against his mentor, Kansas City’s Dick Vermeil, at Giants Stadium, where then-Eagles cornerback Edwards became famous by returning Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik’s fumble for the winning touchdown in the final minute in a 1979 stunner.
“I’ve known Dick since I was 17, and he tried to recruit me to UCLA,” Edwards said. “He gave me my first job in the league [as an undrafted rookie cornerback with the 1977 Eagles]. Now here we are, getting ready to go up against each other. It’s unbelievable.”
Said Vermeil: “I want to kick Herman’s butt, but I’m very proud of him.”
Old Friends (Part II)
Philadelphia’s Brian Mitchell and Detroit’s Desmond Howard, Redskins teammates from 1992 through 1994, are 1-2 in the NFC in punt return average and kickoff return average. The Saints’ Michael Lewis was second in the latter stat but has been cut.
Trivia answer
Believe it or not, Jim Everett and Dave Krieg threw 100 touchdown passes in their first 65 games.

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