- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

Every time Dan Snyder looks at the NFL standings, he must want to scream. Not because the Redskins are loitering around .500 again, but because the only undefeated teams left in the league are — of all people — the Chiefs, Panthers and Vikings.

Two seasons ago, these three clubs were absolutely nowhere, in worse condition than the Redskins. The Chiefs were 6-10 (and four years removed from their last playoff berth), the Vikes were 5-11 and the Panthers were a lowest-of-the-low 1-15. (And Carolina didn’t even get the first pick in the draft for its trouble; that — and the rights to David Carr — went to expansion Houston.)

But here they all are now, the talk of the NFL. Along with the Cowboys who, after winning five games each of the past three seasons, have a chance to win their fifth in a row Sunday at Detroit. Amazing, isn’t it, how quickly the worm can turn in pro football? Makes you wonder what’s taking the Redskins so long. Dan the Man spends and spends and spends — and fires and fires and fires — all he ever ends up doing is writing another chapter in his book, “101 Ways to Go 8-8.”

Let’s talk about the Panthers first, because they’re the best story of the bunch. I remember sitting in the press box at FedEx Field a couple of years back with their general manager, Marty Hurney, and, well, things couldn’t have been going much worse for them. Their quarterback was Chris Weinke; their coach was George Seifert; their big investment in Sean Gilbert had bombed. They were a mess. Even when they had a 14-0 lead in the fourth quarter that day and were driving for more, Hurney — who used to work for this paper — couldn’t relax. And sure enough, Weinke threw a pass that was run back for a touchdown by LaVar Arrington, and the Redskins wound up winning in overtime.

And yet, right now you can make an argument that the Panthers are the best team in the league. Why? Because they’ve won on the road at Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, two other clubs that might have been considered the best in the league — until the Panthers took them down, that is. Beating the Bucs and Colts on their own turf … that’ll give you some credibility.

Carolina is doing it the old-fashioned way — with defense and special teams and a potent running game. Their front four of Julius Peppers, Brentson Bruckner, Kris Jenkins and Mike Rucker rivals the Bucs’ — and is much younger — and Redskins castoff Stephen Davis already has rushed for nearly as many yards (641) as the Panthers’ top back did all last season (Lamar Smith, 737). Another indication John Fox’s club is for real: When Davis had to sit out most of the second half Sunday with a bruised forearm, second-year man DeShaun Foster stepped in and rushed for 85 yards in 16 carries. (Translation: The Panthers have a fine offensive line, too.)

Which brings us to the Chiefs. When was the last time a kick returner caused as much commotion as KC’s Dante Hall — 1965, maybe, when Gale Sayers came on the scene? Running a kick back for a score four consecutive weeks, the last two to win the game, is impossible — except that Hall just did it. And how about Trent Green, another Redskins throwaway, outplaying Brett Favre in the Chiefs’ miraculous 40-34 overtime victory at Green Bay? By the end of the season, Dick Vermeil will be so dehydrated from shedding postgame tears, he’ll need an IV.

Kansas City has incredible karma going for it at this point. And Priest Holmes ain’t half-bad, either.

Then there are the Vikings, who took the weekend off while the rest of the league knocked itself silly. The Vikes are 21/2 games up on the Packers in the NFC North — and they’ve already won at Lambeau, which makes their lead seem like 31/2 games. Gus Frerotte, yet another ex-Redskin, has been doing his very best Earl Morrall imitation Up There, throwing for 690 yards and seven touchdowns in two-plus games as a fill-in for Daunte Culpepper.

Minnesota’s Most Valuable Person, though, might be defensive coordinator George O’Leary, the former (cough, cough) Notre Dame coach. The Vikes have been dogmeat defensively in recent years. Opponents have thrown them around like Pedro Martinez tossed aside Don Zimmer. But O’Leary has his players going for the ball; DBs Brian Russell and Corey Chavous have nine interceptions between them — and it’s only October.

Finally, what can you say about Bill Parcells? It took him two years to get the Giants, Patriots and Jets in the playoffs; he might get the Cowboys there in one. The NFC East isn’t exactly the creme de la creme this season; 10-6 might win it, perhaps even 9-7. With a victory over the Lions, the ‘Boys would be halfway there.

You look at the Panthers and Vikings at 5-0, the Cowboys and Seahawks at 4-1, and the Bucs, Packers and Eagles, among others, lying in the weeds, and you ask yourself: Where is there room for the Redskins? By dropping their first two division games and three of their first four conference games, they’ve hardly put themselves in prime playoff position.

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