- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

The New Orleans Saints closed last season with four straight losses, so they weren't a prime candidate for a good start to the 2002 season, especially after the schedule came out.
No other team had to face playoff qualifiers (Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Chicago) in its first three games. However, it didn't seem to bother the Saints. They are undefeated as they head into today's date with the Bears and the 2-0 start is just the fourth in the franchise's 36-year history.
The Saints lost top defensive linemen La'Roi Glover and Joe Johnson to free agency, but they still can rush the passer. They knocked down the Buccaneers' Brad Johnson a staggering 21 times in their opening 26-20 overtime victory and then limited the Packers to 22 percent efficiency on third down in last week's 35-20 upset.
"We're trying to establish ourselves as one of the most physical defenses in the NFL," tackle Norman Hand said.
The offense, meanwhile, is tied for fifth in scoring. Last year's first-round draft choice, Deuce McAlister, has replaced Ricky Williams who was traded to Miami as the feature back, rushing for 109 and then 123 yards half on a 62-yard scoring jaunt.
"Deuce is really deceptive because he's a big back and you don't think he could take something to the house," said guard Kendyl Jacox. "It doesn't look like he's moving that fast. Then boom! he's gone."
Chicago is also 2-0 thanks to come-from-behind victories over Minnesota (27-23) and Atlanta (14-13) that extended the Bears' winning streak to 12 in games decided by a touchdown or less. The Bears are just 5-5 in other games since Dec.3, 2000.
The Bears rely on a defense led by linebackers Brian Urlacher, Roosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman. Haslett, a former linebacker, called the trio "probably the best I've ever seen." That's a bit of a stretch, but there's no denying their importance, especially with tackle Ted Washington, end Phillip Daniels and cornerback R.W McQuarters all sidelined.
Something has to give in this one.
The Dolphins have won 16 straight in the usual blistering August and September heat of Miami (today's forecast is 88 degrees with isolated thunderstorms). The last such loss was in 1993 to the Jets, who have won the last eight meetings between the AFC East rivals some in unbelievable fashion.
"I'm convinced there's a curse," Miami cornerback Patrick Surtain said.
There's no curse on South Florida's newest star, Ricky Williams. The focal point of "the Miami Pound Machine," Williams can become the first Dolphins runner to gain 100 yards in three straight games if he does so today against the Jets' 27th-ranked rush defense.
New York edged Buffalo 37-31 in overtime in its opener thanks to a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns by Chad Morton but was clobbered 44-7 by New England last week. Williams and the AFC's top passer, Jay Fiedler, led Miami past Detroit 49-21 and Indianapolis 21-13. A victory today would give the Dolphins their eighth 3-0 start in nine years.
Mike Martz isn't panicking after the 0-2 start by his defending NFC champions. St. Louis' coach noted that last year the Rams started by edging the Eagles 20-17 and San Francisco 30-26 and that they opened 2000 by squeaking past Denver and Seattle.
"You can make players tight and press if you're not careful," Martz said. "I'm not talking about a Pollyanna approach. You don't have to say a whole lot. You put the tape on, and you look. You coach it, correct it, keep them uplifted and move on."
Trouble is the "Greatest Show On Turf'' has been moving at a snail's pace. MVP Marshall Faulk ran just 10 times for 19 yards in the opening loss to the Broncos and is averaging just six yards a catch. Wideout Issac Bruce is averaging only 10.7 yards a catch and former MVP Kurt Warner who will become the NFL's top-ranked career passer on his 17th throw tomorrow has three interceptions and just one touchdown.
The Bucs have beaten the Rams the past two years (24-17 and 38-35), but Tampa Bay receiver Keyshawn Johnson is still wary.
"They're looking to pull out all the stops because everybody is saying that if they go 0-3, they're done," said Johnson, whose team is 1-1 despite just two offensive touchdowns under new coach Jon Gruden. "It's going to be tough."
Seahawks-Giants Seattle will probably fall to 0-3 unless it can prevent New York's Kerry Collins from passing for 300 yards for a sixth straight game. That would tie the record held by Warner and former 49er Steve Young. Incredibly, the Giants (1-1) had gone 99 games more than six seasons without a 300-yard passer until Collins first hit the mark on Dec.5,1999. He has 12 such games since. At least Collins isn't much of a runner. Seattle's run defense has surrendered 470 yards in losses to Oakland (31-17) and Arizona (24-13).
"That's the stuff of nightmares," linebacker Chad Brown said.

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