- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

Loud is the operative word for this weekend’s most intriguing NFL matchups.

Loud as in the hostile crowd that will greet the 4-0 Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium for today’s AFC West showdown with the equally perfect Kansas City Chiefs.

Loud as in the reception former coaches Tony Dungy and Steve Mariucci can expect upon their returns to Tampa Bay and San Francisco, respectively.

And loud as in the comments that all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith, who is returning to Dallas, made after being cut loose by the Cowboys this offseason.

“The first time I ever went there, it scared the [heck] out of me,” Broncos receiver Rod Smith said of Arrowhead’s raucous atmosphere. “We’re hated there. That really tests the character of your team. If we want to be that team that’s [left] standing, we’re going to have to win on the road. This is kind of like that test for us.”

After a horrid debut, new Denver quarterback Jake Plummer is passing the test. He completed 16 in a row in last week’s 20-16 victory over Detroit en route to the best three-game stretch of passer rating in Broncos history. And Plummer — the first experienced quarterback the Chiefs have faced this season — should get a boost from the likely return of swift halfback Clinton Portis from a bruised sternum. Portis scored five touchdowns as Denver swept Kansas City in 2002 for just the second time in 11 years.

Plummer and Portis will face a revitalized Chiefs defense, coached by former Broncos defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, that has forced 14 turnovers and allowed just 58 points.

Kansas City is also 4-0 for just the second time in team history because of Dante Hall, who already has returned three kicks for touchdowns, one shy of the NFL season record.

“Every time the ball gets in his hands, I say, ‘Look out,’” Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said of Hall, the first player to win Player of the Week honors three weeks running.

The Broncos, who have led for all but 33:34 this season, should look at history. The last four teams to come to Arrowhead at least 4-0 all left with their first loss.

Colts-Buccaneers — Dungy turned the NFL’s biggest joke — Tampa Bay — into a perennial playoff contender. But he was fired after a second straight first-round loss in 2001. Jon Gruden replaced him and coached the Bucs to their first Super Bowl title.

“[It will be] a pretty emotional night for a lot of guys on this defense,” Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. “We are who we are because of what he made us, what he put in place here. We feel responsible to Tony. Some guys still feel like we’re playing Tony’s defense.”

The defense-minded Dungy returns as the coach of the unbeaten Colts, who allow an AFC-low average of 11.8 points, just 4.5 behind the NFL-best of the Bucs (2-1).

“I hope [my return] doesn’t turn into a sideshow,” said Dungy, who could celebrate his 48th birthday with a fourth victory over a defending champion in the past five years. “This is a chance for us to demonstrate whether we’re a championship level team or not.”

Quarterback Peyton Manning and receiver Marvin Harrison were in championship form last week as Indianapolis crushed New Orleans 55-21 for its second 4-0 start in 26 years. Manning set a franchise record with six touchdown passes — three to Harrison — in becoming the first quarterback in the last 31 years to post three games with a perfect rating.

Lions-49ers — Mariucci’s return today is a sidebar to the mess the 49ers (1-3) have suddenly become. A home loss to Cleveland was followed by a rout in Minnesota during which bad boy receiver Terrell Owens screamed at offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.

“If we’re worried about [Mariucci], then we’ve got a real problem,” said Owens, whose off-and-on feud with him helped cost the coach his job.

Mariucci’s replacement, Dennis Erickson, said after a private meeting Monday that he and Owens “understand each other” and a repeat incident won’t be tolerated. The coach also hopes his players won’t tolerate the 35-7 loss to the Vikings.

“We got our rear ends kicked,” Erickson said. “Everybody had a part of that, and the only way to mend that is for all of us to focus on what we have to get done to get a win. Steve knows the team pretty well, [but] what we do this Sunday has nothing to do with him.”

Mariucci, whose Lions not surprisingly are 1-3, is still not over his January firing after he coached the 49ers to the playoffs four times in six years.

“If I start thinking about it, I try to change the channel and get to the here and now,” Mariucci said. “I can’t dwell on that, because if I do, I’d probably have a bad day.”

Cardinals-Cowboys — Smith said he felt like “a diamond surrounded by trash” last year in Dallas, where he won three Super Bowls in the first six of his 13 seasons there.

However, new coach Bill Parcells has recycled that “trash” into a winner overnight. The Cowboys are 2-1 for the first time since 1999, but Smith is stuck with the 1-3 Cardinals.

“If you have any pride, it did have an effect on you,” said Dallas linebacker Dexter Coakley. “Especially [coming from] a guy who had been here so long, it was very painful.”

Smith isn’t sure how he’ll be received by the fans who cheered him for so long.

“They may receive me as the enemy,” said Smith, whose 193 rushing yards are 47 fewer than his former backup Troy Hambrick has produced in one fewer game. “They may boo me. I can only hope that they will receive me with open arms.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide