- The Washington Times - Friday, September 17, 2004

Detroit snapped its NFL-record 24-game road losing streak Sunday in Chicago but, in typical Lions fashion, couldn’t truly celebrate. That’s because receiver Charles Rogers, the club’s top choice in the 2003 draft, broke his collarbone and will be sidelined for the rest of the season.

This is an old story, both for Rogers and the Lions. The loss of Rogers with an identical injury to the one that shelved him for 11 games last season followed a knee injury suffered by linebacker Boss Bailey during training camp that will keep last year’s second-rounder out most of the season.

Nobody should be surprised the Lions seem to be prime targets for misfortune. After all, this is the franchise to have one player die on the field (receiver Chuck Hughes in 1971) and another paralyzed during a game (guard Mike Utley in 1991). With luck like that, it’s no wonder Detroit has just one playoff victory since its last NFL title in 1957.

In 1999, the Lions’ greatest player, Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, suddenly retired at the peak of his game. The next year, coach Bobby Ross, who had guided the Lions to playoff berths in two of his first three seasons, resigned with the team 5-4 and in a battle for another postseason spot.

Detroit is just 15-40 under three coaches since, but despite Rogers’ absence, there is some hope for a brighter future. Houston visits on Sunday in the first meeting of the top two quarterbacks taken in the 2002 draft, the Texans’ David Carr (first overall) and the Lions’ Joey Harrington (third) as Detroit looks to go 2-0 before a rugged string of games against Philadelphia, Atlanta and Green Bay.

Where’s the aerial show? — So much for the much-hyped crackdown on illegal contact downfield. On the opening weekend of a supposedly pass-crazed NFL, only four quarterbacks topped the 300-yard mark and both teams scored more than 21 points in just three of the 16 games in the closest opening weekend (average margin 8.4 points) in 20 years.

However, running backs went wild. An opening-day record 12 backs ran for 100 or more yards, topped by the New York Jets’ Curtis Martin with 196. Seattle’s Shaun Alexander, Pittsburgh’s Jerome Bettis, Green Bay’s Ahman Green, Denver’s Quentin Griffin and Kansas City’s Priest Holmes each reached the end zone three times, with Griffin and Holmes doing so in the same game. Add Terrell Owens’ three touchdown catches for Philadelphia and a record six players scored three times each.

One of last week’s 100-yard backs, not surprisingly, was San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson, whom Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal calls “Superman without the cape.”

Neal’s not so bad himself. If Tomlinson — who averaged 1,521 yards in his previous three seasons — tops 1,000 again, this will be the eighth straight season in which the 255-pound Neal has led the way for a 1,000-yard rusher. The Jets’ Adrian Murrell was the first in 1997 followed by Tampa Bay’s Warrick Dunn in 1998, Tennessee’s Eddie George in 1999 and 2000, Cincinnati’s Corey Dillon in 2001 and 2002 and Tomlinson last season.

“It’s my 12th year, but I’m still the best fullback in the league,” said Neal, 33. “I might not be the niftiest or a run threat, but if you want a guy that’s hard-nosed and hits guys in the mouth, I’m that guy.”

Powerless — Neither Houston nor San Diego has a potent offense, but their opener at Reliant Stadium literally became powerless with 5:07 to play. That’s when a balloon hit a power line and knocked out the juice. The host Texans, trailing 27-20, were already done.

“We got beat from top to bottom,” said defensive tackle Gary Walker, whose Texans lost their opener for the first time in their three seasons. “They outplayed us, out-executed us, and outdid everything better than what we did, and that’s why they won.”

Where’s the rush? — Tony Brackens and Hugh Douglas really must be done to have been cut by Jacksonville, whose four defensive ends (Rob Meier, Paul Spicer, Brandon Green, Lionel Barnes and rookie Bobby McCray) combined for 2½ NFL sacks last year. At least Barnes got the ends off on the right foot by recording the Jaguars’ only sack in a 13-10 victory in Buffalo.

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