If Tennessee could have reversed one of the narrow defeats that ended its 2001 season, Steve McNair would now match Green Bay’s Brett Favre in never having quarterbacked his team to a losing record. But such success will be very difficult for one of these Super Bowl veterans to maintain after tomorrow night’s game at Lambeau Field between the Titans and Packers, each of which have lost three straight after winning their openers.
The Titans, one of just two teams to win a playoff game in each of the last two years, are in trouble because 2003 co-MVP McNair hasn’t been himself and because last year’s No.1 run defense is the NFL’s worst and now must contain Ahman Green after failing to stop Edgerrin James, Fred Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson.
With McNair out because of a bruised sternum, Tennessee was pounded by mediocre San Diego last week, leading some veterans of the 1999 AFC champions to criticize the nonchalance of their younger teammates.
“This team isn’t going to fall apart,” said coach Jeff Fisher, whose 2002 Titans overcame a 1-4 start to reach the AFC Championship game. “We’re not going to have a mutiny or a battle between the veterans and the rookies because some of the rookies aren’t carrying their load. The vets only need to be reminded that they were all rookies at one time.”
Like McNair, Favre — who has started a quarterback-record 193 straight games — is expected to return from injury. But Favre isn’t just dealing with the concussion he suffered in last week’s stunning home loss to the New York Giants. His wife’s brother died in an accident last week, again putting the three-time MVP in a national spotlight after a family tragedy. Favre responded with the highest-rated passing performance of his career last December one day after his father’s sudden death. However, Favre, once a sure thing at Lambeau, is just 6-6 in his last 12 home starts, the worst stretch of his 13 years as Green Bay’s main man.
Panthers-Broncos — Surprise 2003 NFC champion Carolina is in serious jeopardy of becoming the fourth straight such winner to miss the playoffs the next year. Strangely, the Panthers (1-2) have lost to the Packers and Atlanta at home but won at Kansas City. Carolina needs a repeat of that upset today in Denver, where the Broncos are 61-17 during coach Mike Shanahan’s 10 seasons, including 2-0 this season.
After backup DeShaun Foster found the going slow against the Falcons, Panthers Pro Bowl running back Stephen Davis will try to return from knee surgery today. Of bigger concern is why a team built on defense is surrendering 142 rushing yards and 23 points a game.
“We got our butt kicked at home,” Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner said last Sunday. “We’ve got to play better. If we don’t, we’ll get our butt kicked again.”
Only a one-point loss at Jacksonville stands between Denver (3-1) and an undefeated record even though the offense hasn’t been its usual robust self since trading running back Clinton Portis and the defense is missing top lineman Trevor Pryce. Five of the defensive line regulars weren’t Broncos last year, but the expected lack of chemistry hasn’t surfaced.
Giants-Cowboys — Out of work last year after being fired by the Jaguars, Tom Coughlin helped Bill Parcells get re-acclimated to the NFL as a consultant to his former boss. Today Coughlin’s surprising New York Giants (3-1) will attempt to make themselves the chief threat to NFC East leader Philadelphia by dropping Parcells’ Cowboys (2-1) to .500.
“They’re headed in the right direction,” Parcells said of the Giants, who are looking like the 2003 Cowboys, a last-place pick that started 5-1 en route to postseason.
A defense devoid of big names other than end Michael Strahan has an NFL-high 13 takeaways after forcing just 22 turnovers all last year. And once New York’s offense gets the ball, it usually goes to running back Tiki Barber, who leads the NFC with 455 rushing yards and the league with 619 yards from scrimmage. Dallas must rely on 40-year-old quarterback Vinny Testaverde and his receivers because the ground game and defense have been sub-par.