- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

Parity reigns again. The madness continues in the NFL. Super Bowl favorite St. Louis looked dead after a stunning 0-5 start but now stands at 4-5. Oakland started 4-0, lost four straight and then won in Denver for the first time in eight years. Philadelphia is 6-0 against everyone except the lousy AFC South, against which it's 0-3. Atlanta, New England and St. Louis all rallied from double-digit, fourth-quarter deficits to win or tie last week.

Fifteen of the 32 NFL teams including the entire AFC East and three quarters of the AFC South are 5-4 or 4-5, with Pittsburgh and Atlanta at 5-3-1. Only Green Bay and San Francisco lead their divisions by more than a game. In fact, if Green Bay (8-1) beats Minnesota (2-7) and Detroit (3-6) loses to the New York Jets (4-5) on Sunday, the Packers will clinch the NFC North after just 10 games, the earliest a division title has been wrapped up since the schedule was expanded to 16 games in 1978.

And yet in the long run, the season really hasn't been that unpredictable. Miami (tied), Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Denver (tied), Philadelphia, Green Bay and Tampa Bay are all leading their divisions. Only the 49ers in front of the Rams in the NFC West is a surprise.

Passing fancy Pass attempts are up, pass completions are up, points are up and quarterbacks with passer ratings of 90 or better have doubled in comparison to last year.

Teams have thrown for 3,757 more yards, 2,412 if the expansion Houston Texans are ignored. But even with all this passing, sacks are down slightly.

"The games are so close now that one slip, one blown coverage can decide the issue, so defenses may be less inclined to pull the trigger and take chances going after the quarterbacks," Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said.

So there's plenty of dumping off going on. Six running backs are at least tied for their team lead in catches.

"With so many defenses jamming the line of scrimmage against the run and then dropping into zone coverage, you take what the defense is giving you, and what they're giving you is the short pass," Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning explained.

Seattle oddities Maybe it's the location in the nation's far northwest. Maybe it's all the rain. Maybe it's all the Starbucks coffee. Whatever the reason, the Seahawks who are on their way to a league-high 18th straight year without a playoff victory are weird.

Defensive end Antonio Cochran has as many interceptions as starting cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Ken Lucas combined: one. That's amazing considering Seattle ranks seventh in pass defense, has allowed just nine touchdown passes and has held opposing quarterbacks to a mediocre 72.6 rating. Meanwhile, Cochran and fellow end Lamar King have combined for one sack, the fewest of any starting tandem. And the top linebackers are all hurt.

"If anyone would like to play linebacker, raise your hand and I'll fit you for a helmet," coach Mike Holmgren told the Seahawks' beat writers.

The Seahawks' offense is just inept. Seattle averages 4.3 points after halftime and has only seven points in the third quarter (compared to 89 in the second quarter).

All this wackiness from a team starting a Tongue (safety Reggie), a "Pork Chop" (right tackle Floyd Womack), a middle linebacker who graduated pre-med from Harvard (Isaiah Kacyvenski) and a French-Canadian long snapper (Jean-Phillipe Darche).

No longer just Rubin's kid San Francisco second-year defensive end Andre Carter has 12½ sacks in his last 15 games, tied for second in the league. Carter, son of former Denver defensive tackle Rubin Carter (now the Jets' defensive line coach), led the 49ers with 6½ sacks as a rookie and is doing so again with eight this year. Counting pressures and hits, the 23-year-old has gotten to the quarterback 38 times.

Couldn't stay away John Elway, who ended a sure Hall of Fame career by quarterbacking Denver to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998, is back in the game as the president and CEO of the Colorado Crush, an Arena League expansion team.

"I really didn't know what to expect, but it has been a lot of fun," said Elway, 42, who needed some good news after his father and twin sister died during the past year. "There are always a lot more things that have to be done in a start-up situation, and we're past most of those now. Our season ticket base is growing every day and beating expectations. Colorado is a great football state. Many people don't get a chance to see the Broncos play live and therefore are looking forward to seeing the Crush."

If the team name sounds familiar, it's because the Broncos' defense in the pre-Elway 1970s was dubbed "The Orange Crush."


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