- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

Big-mouthed receiver Keyshawn Johnson’s deactivation for the rest of the season by Tampa Bay pointed out what a quiet year it has been at the NFL’s most volatile position.

Before Johnson was told to beat it because his overt desire to be an ex-Buccaneer had become a distraction, the biggest negative news among receivers was the positive drug test by Jacksonville’s Jimmy Smith, Steve Smith helping cost Carolina a victory by kicking an opponent, San Francisco’s Terrell Owens sniping at quarterback Jeff Garcia and Cleveland cutting Kevin Johnson for reacting badly to being benched.

That’s humdrum stuff compared to the recent behavior of such knucklehead wideouts as Johnson (constantly ripping then-New York Jets teammate Wayne Chrebet), Owens (Sharpie in the sock), Washington’s Michael Westbrook (beating up teammate Stephen Davis), New Orleans’ Albert Connell (stealing from teammate Deuce McAllister), Minnesota’s Randy Moss (assaulting a traffic cop), New England’s Terry Glenn (suspended for insubordination) and San Diego’s David Boston (two DUI charges). Worst of all, Carolina’s Rae Carruth was imprisoned for conspiracy in the murder of his pregnant wife.

As for Keyshawn, he was a thorough disappointment during his four years with the Buccaneers despite catching 298 passes. Johnson, the No.1 pick in the 1996 draft, scored just one touchdown on 106 catches in 2001 and was obviously inferior this season to 33-year-old Keenan McCardell and the hard-working Joe Jurevicius.

Keyshawn sparkled for Bill Parcells in New York, but the Tuna is full up at wideout in Dallas with Glenn, Antonio Bryant and Joey Galloway. It will be interesting this offseason to see what organization wants to deal for/with Johnson, who’ll turn 32 in July.

Turkey Day — Speaking of turkeys, next week’s Thanksgiving doubleheader of Miami visiting just as offensively inept Dallas and Detroit apparently not much of a match for Green Bay might seem worth skipping in favor of more time with the cousins, or even the dishes.

However, if you don’t tune in, you might miss a bit of football history.

Hall of Fame running back Ernie Nevers scored a record six touchdowns on Thanksgiving in 1929 for the Chicago Cardinals against the Bears. Cleveland’s Jim Benton totaled 303 receiving yards at Detroit in 1945, a record that stood for 40 years. Buffalo’s O.J. Simpson ran for a then-record 273 yards in a 1976 loss to the Lions. Detroit’s Scott Mitchell (410) and Minnesota’s Warren Moon (384) combined to pass for 794 yards in 1995. Dallas’ Troy Aikman had the only 400-yard game of his sure Hall of Fame career with 455 against the Vikings in 1998.

Ram tough? — The Rams have won six of their last seven and lead the NFC with 27 points a game, but don’t mistake their offense for the one that terrorized NFL defenses from 1999 to 2001.

St. Louis is tied for the NFC West lead with Seattle at 7-3 despite getting crushed by division rival San Francisco on Nov. 2, beating Baltimore thanks largely to seven Ravens turnovers and rallying from a 14-3 third-quarter deficit to edge Chicago last week.

Coach Mike Martz has come close the past two games to yanking quarterback Marc Bulger for two-time MVP Kurt Warner, who crashed from fabled during St. Louis’ best days to forgotten. The downturn occurred after Warner’s concussion-induced turnover fest in the opening loss to the New York Giants that followed his shoddy play in 2002, when the Rams skidded to 7-9.

Bulger, whose quarterback rating was more than 100 last year and 92.5 after Week 8 this season, has seen the latter figure slip to 83.1 while he has thrown six interceptions and three touchdowns the last three weeks.

Bulger isn’t the only key Ram off his game. Running back Marshall Faulk, the NFL’s MVP in 2000 — the year between Warner’s two monster years — had missed six weeks with a broken hand and was averaging 2.6 yards a carry before rushing for 103 yards on 20 carries against the Bears.

Wideout Isaac Bruce averages 14.1 yards a catch but has only one touchdown. So of the four supremely skilled players who carried the Rams to the Super Bowl title in 1999 and nearly to another championship in 2001, only receiver Torry Holt — who leads the NFL with 75 catches, 1,040 yards and 10 touchdowns — remains at the top of his game.

The defense, which has five starters left from 2001 and only end Grant Wistrom from 1999, is opportunistic, not dominant. The Rams have forced a league-high 31 turnovers. Those have been critical because the offense has a league-high 27 giveaways. And except for NFC scoring leader Jeff Wilkins, St. Louis’ special teams have been dreadful.

And yet that every odd year Super Bowl scenario is still possible for this talented if flawed team. The Rams’ toughest remaining foes — the Seahawks, Vikings and Bengals — all must visit the Edward Jones Dome, where St. Louis is 34-7 since becoming an NFL power in 1999.


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