- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

Quarterbacks whose styles are nearly as disparate as their ages lead the NFL's hottest teams. But Oakland's Rich Gannon and Atlanta's Michael Vick do share a couple of traits: Each is even better on third down, and each is a strong MVP candidate.
Gannon, who turns 37 this month, should break the season records for 300-yard games and completions and could surpass the marks of 5,084 passing yards set by Miami's Dan Marino in 1984 and 70.6 completion percentage set by Cincinnati's Ken Anderson in strike-shortened 1982.
Gannon leads the NFL in attempts, completions and yards and is second in touchdowns and completion percentage. Gannon, who had a career-high 89 rushes in 2000, has carried the ball just 39 times this season while throwing 505 passes.
"Rich's ability to change plays and diagnose defenses and get you into the right play, it's key for us," Raiders coach Bill Callahan said of the ex-scrambler, who finally found a home in Oakland in 1999 after stops in Minnesota, Washington and Kansas City. "For our style of play, he's the guy that does the best job. We wouldn't want anybody else."
The Falcons feel the same about the remarkable Vick. Just 22, Vick has thrown a league-low three interceptions and is third in the NFC in yards per pass. However, Vick also has thrown just 280 times in his 12 games.
What really distinguishes Vick is his speed. He earned his first Player of the Week Award by rushing for a quarterback-record 173 yards including the winning 46-yard touchdown in overtime against Minnesota last Sunday. Vick's 648 rushing yards on 80 carries lead the Falcons and are better than the leading runners on five teams. Only seven backs have scored more than his eight touchdowns.
"I couldn't put a limit on him," raved NFL sack leader Simeon Rice of Tampa Bay, which knocked Vick out of its 20-6 victory over Atlanta on Oct.6 and faces him again Sunday. "Defensively, you have to adapt to the way he's playing because this game right now is being pushed forward by the way he plays. The quarterback position was always made to be the most dominant position because they touch the ball so much. He's illustrating what happens when you truly have a dominant player at the helm and what levels this game can go to."
Ups and downs It's December and time to see who has been naughty or nice.
Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina, Indianapolis, New Orleans and San Diego already have won more games than they did last year. However, Chicago (reality bites), Cincinnati (no surprise) and St. Louis (biggest bust) have lost more games than in 2001.
NFC front-runners Philadelphia and Tampa Bay are close to wrapping up playoff berths for the third and fourth consecutive seasons, respectively. Oakland is on course for a third straight AFC postseason, while Miami still has a hold on an NFL-high sixth in a row.
In contrast, the hapless Bengals will miss the playoffs for a 12th consecutive time and the Panthers for a sixth straight season. The Chiefs figure to be on the postseason sideline for the fifth year in a row, one more than the Cowboys and Arizona.
My sweet Marvin Yet another note on the ridiculous season that the Colts' Marvin Harrison is having: Not only is Harrison within 14 catches of Herman Moore's record 123 with four games to play, but 70 of his 109 grabs have been for first downs. Only nine other receivers have that many total catches.
Ex-Redskins report In a week when we might finally have bid adieu to that massive waste of athletic ability known as ex-Redskins first-round draft choice Michael Westbrook (eight catches in nine games for the Bengals), end N.D. Kalu had four (count 'em, four!) sacks for the Eagles and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week. That's more than half as many sacks as the speedy Kalu posted as a third-down specialist for Washington from 1998 to 2000. And yet he isn't good enough to start on the 2002 All Ex-Redskins Team:
WR James Thrash, Eagles; Kevin Lockett, Jaguars
OT Darryl Ashmore, Raiders; Ed Ellis, Chargers
G Ray Brown, Lions; Dave Szott, Jets
C Cory Raymer, Chargers (injured)
TE Frank Wycheck, Titans
RB Larry Centers, Bills; Brian Mitchell, Eagles
QB Rich Gannon, Raiders
K David Akers, Eagles
KR Brian Mitchell, Eagles
DE Kenard Lang, Browns; Marco Coleman, Jaguars
DT Dana Stubblefield, 49ers; Jerry DeLoach, Texans
LB Shawn Barber, Eagles; Derek Smith, 49ers; Marvcus Patton, Chiefs
CB Donovan Greer, Lions; Brian Walker, Lions (actually a safety)
S Matt Stevens, Texans; Keith Lyle, Chargers
P Matt Turk, Jets
Snapper Ryan Kuehl, Browns
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Dolphins
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Ravens
Coach Marty Schottenheimer, Chargers
GM Charley Casserly, Texans


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