- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Time sure flies when you're 4-4, doesn't it?

That's right, Burgundy Boosters, we're halfway through the NFL season. (Well, nine weeks 52.9 percent but who's counting?) This past weekend was a bit quieter, what with the Chiefs and Broncos on hiatus, but we're still in the midst of one of the best offensive years since the invention of the double reverse. Every time you turn around, somebody like the Jets is laying 44 points on the Chargers.

A brief aside before I proceed with my State of the Half-Season address: For the first time in pro football history, there are two starting quarterbacks named Chad Chad Hutchinson of the Cowboys and Chad Pennington of the Jets. I'm not sure what this says about the game and where it's headed, but it is kind of interesting in light of the last presidential election.

OK, here's my take on the 2002 season so far:

•The mood swings some of the better teams have gone through have been incredible. The Patriots won their first three, lost their next four, then absolutely destroyed the red-hot Bills. The Raiders started out 4-0 and are 0-4 since. The Rams went 0-5 with Kurt Warner and are now 3-0 without him. That could well be the stat of the year, especially if they keep winning.

•Unless this is the stat of the year: In those three wins, St. Louis' Marshall Faulk has gained 180, 235 and 236 yards from scrimmage an average of 217. It's probably the best three-game stretch by any NFL running back ever. (The closest I've found is Marcus Allen averaging 203 yards over three games in '85.) And Faulk is doing it at an age (29) when most backs are beginning to wind down and/or wear out.

•The Eagles, if they can keep Donovan McNabb vertical, look like the team to beat in the NFC. The Redskins have played all the likely suspects Philadelphia, Green Bay, San Francisco, New Orleans and Philly was easily the most impressive. It still has a dynamite defense, even without Jeremiah Trotter, and Duce Staley is running like he was in '98 and '99, before he had that hideous foot injury. McNabb, meanwhile, seems to do a better job each season of deciding when and when not to run. The Eagles might be the only club capable of beating the Packers at Lambeau in January, if it comes to that.

•I'm not sold on the Bucs yet, even though Jon Gruden has them playing more consistently, week to week, than Tony Dungy ever did. By the way, did you notice Brad Johnson threw five touchdown passes against the Vikings the other day? Under Dungy, it would have taken him a month of Sundays to do that.

•The picture in the AFC is cloudier. Check back with me in a month or so. But who figured on Marty Schottenheimer's Chargers being in the mix at 6-2 (with a victory over New England)? Of course, the Jets just jumped on them, 44-13, so maybe the Bolts are about to return to reality. They've been known to fade big-time in recent years.

•Getting back to quarterbacks, is it just me, or are there more young ones than usual these days? You've got Pennington, Hutchinson, David Carr in Houston, Joey Harrington in Detroit, Drew Brees in San Diego, Marc Bulger in St. Louis, Michael Vick in Atlanta and the Redskins, you may recall, gave Patrick Ramsey a brief trial last month. This is what happens when a 24-year-old like Tom Brady comes out of nowhere to win the Super Bowl.

•By the way, do you know who Brady has been compared to by none other than Bill Walsh? Joe Montana. "He plays with the same style and composure," Walsh said in the Los Angeles Times. "He's not quite as athletic, because Joe could avoid people and run a little better. But he's very, very close."

•Then there's Drew Bledsoe, spurned by the Pats, who's having an MVP-type season with the Bills. In fairness, though, Bledsoe is surrounded by better talent in Buffalo (Eric Moulds, Peerless Price, Travis Henry, Larry Centers, Jay Riemersma) than he would be in, say, Washington or Chicago. Translation: He probably wouldn't have 17 touchdown passes at this point for the Redskins. Still, he'd be a heck of an improvement over the QBs they've got.

•You hate to say it, but Edgerrin James could be in the early stages of a Terrell Davis-type decline, and Eddie George's days as a dominant back might be over, too. Which just makes Emmitt Smith's continuing durability all the more remarkable. People who lamented, as Smith approached Walter Payton's career rushing record, that he isn't the player he used to be there were even a few references to him "just hanging on" until he passed Payton made me want to scream. I mean, have a clue, will ya? The reason Walter was more spry the season he broke Jim Brown's mark was that the mark was "only" 12,312 yards, not 16,726. Thus, he could break it at an earlier age (30, to Emmitt's 33).

•Most fun teams to watch: Kansas City, New Orleans, Buffalo. The Saints have given up at least 20 points in every game, and they're 6-2.

•Least fun teams to watch: Carolina, Dallas, New York Giants. They're like watching artificial grass grow.

•Biggest mystery: How Julius Peppers, the Panthers' super rookie, could have nine sacks but only 19 total tackles.

•And last but not least, I'm no more concerned about some of the head-rattling hits in the secondary than I am about Terrell Owens carrying a Sharpie in his sock. What really bothers me is that in the year 2002, the NFL despite its vast wealth still hasn't come up with a helmet that affords its players better protection. I mean, that's as bad as auto makers not developing an electric car, but I don't want to stray too far afield here.

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