- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001

San Diego and Cincinnati, a combined 5-27 last season, each are 2-0 and the Bengals shocked the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens. Tennessee, supposed to be one of the NFL's top teams, is 0-2.
What's going on is just more of the same five of the last six teams to make the Super Bowl were .500 or worse the previous year.
Few people expected Cincinnati to beat Baltimore. But San Diego was almost everyone's pick to be the league's most improved team they're 2-0 after going 1-15 last season and could be 5-0 before they have to start playing games within the NFL's toughest division.
Even the Ravens have looked far from Super Bowl level in splitting their first two games.
"We've got to go back to the drawing board and look at what we did wrong, which was everything, and look at what we did right, which was nothing, and somehow get this thing fixed," Shannon Sharpe said after the Ravens were shocked 21-10 Sunday at Cincinnati.
Baltimore is the perfect example of how quickly injuries can turn things around, the injury in question being the one to running back Jamal Lewis.
When your strength is defense, it's easy to play field position. The Ravens did that last season with Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer at quarterback, and even then they went five games the entire month of October without a touchdown.
But when you can't run Lewis is out for the season it's harder to do it passing. The Ravens ran just 20 times for 64 yards after running 30 times for 54 in the opener, an ugly 17-6 win over Chicago.
So Elvis Grbac, a step up from Banks and Dilfer, threw a team-record 63 passes in Cincinnati. Three of them were picked off, one of them returned for a touchdown, and the Bengals won.
"Them not having a running game really hurt them," Cincinnati safety Cory Hall said. "When they were in the red zone, we were like, 'If you try to run it, you might get a yard or two, if that, so come on and beat us throwing.' And they couldn't do that."
Other surprises:
Chargers (2-0). Yes, they were 1-15 last season, but six of the losses were by three points or less. Doug Flutie has energized the team and LaDainian Tomlinson has been the heavy-duty running back they needed. The wins are over the Redskins and Cowboys, no big deal. The next three weeks are winnable Cincinnati at home and at Cleveland and New England. Anyone for 5-0?
Bengals (2-0). If you draft high enough long enough, you're bound to find some talent, like Takeo Spikes, one of the NFL's better young linebackers, who had a 66-yard interception return for a TD on Sunday. Jon Kitna has been a solid QB for two games, which helps Corey Dillon; Darnay Scott is back with Peter Warrick and the brash young Chad Johnson to support him. Next week's game at San Diego is a big one.
Miami (2-0). And those wins were over Tennessee and Oakland. The victory over the Raiders was at home, where Miami almost never loses in September. Jay Fiedler isn't always pretty, but he's a winner a younger Rich Gannon. And the defense remains solid although it tends to wear down late in the season.
Jaguars (2-0). Everyone looks at them as a team on the decline. Maybe they still are they're awfully thin and if Fred Taylor is out for a while, they could slide. But they did finish 5-3 last season, Tom Coughlin remains a good coach, and they still have a lot of big-time players Taylor, Tony Boselli, Jimmy Smith, Mark Brunell, Kevin Hardy, Aaron Beasley, Tony Brackens and more.
Titans (0-2). The loss at home to Miami was a surprise. The loss in Jacksonville on Sunday, without Steve McNair, wasn't. And Eddie George is still recovering from foot surgery, making 20 carries for 79 yards on Sunday.
Vikings (0-2). Korey Stringer's death motivated the team in preseason, but his loss has made the offensive line less than ordinary. Robert Smith has retired, and Daunte Culpepper's quarterback rating, 98 last season, is an ordinary 72.3. Oh yes, the defense remains suspect, although tackle Chris Hovan is a comer.

The general impression in the two weeks worked by replacement officials was that they seemed reluctant to throw flags. Yet the difference is negligible between the first week of the regular season, when replacements worked, and Sunday with the regulars back.
In 15 games in Week 1, there were 161 accepted penalties, or an average of 10.7 a game. On Sunday, there were 142 in 13 games, or 10.9 a game.
Each week, there were large swings from game to game.
In Week 1, there were 21 penalties for 205 yards in the Miami-Tennessee game, and just five for 48 yards in Seattle-Cleveland. The Seahawks had just one penalty for 5 yards in that one.
On Sunday, there were just four penalties for 25 yards in the Giants-Chiefs game, 24 for 165 in Cleveland-Detroit and 27 for 192 in Buffalo-Indianapolis. The Bills alone were flagged 19 times for 133 yards.

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