- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

New England obviously is the NFL’s gold standard after winning three of the last four Super Bowls. But Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, whose Colts have been eliminated from the AFC playoffs by the Patriots the last two years, has refused to become obsessed about the champions.

“You can’t get focused in on one particular team,” Dungy said at the NFL spring meetings this week in Maui. “We can’t structure everything based on New England. That’s a dangerous hole to fall into. Obviously they’ve beaten us four times in a row, but it’s still making our team as good as it can be. The reason we’ve lost to New England is not because we’ve made one mistake at the wrong time. It’s because we haven’t outplayed them. Eventually we will.”

Everyone’s chances of catching the Patriots should be improved after New England lost coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis to the top jobs at Cleveland and Notre Dame, respectively.

“I don’t want to minimize their loss — they’re both great coaches — but at the same time, we’ve got a good staff,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who continued to hedge on whether he will assume Weis’ play-calling duties. “We’ll just have to re-divide some of the responsibilities a little bit.”

Saban has Ricky’s number — New Miami coach Nick Saban has told Ricky Williams the AWOL, marijuana-loving running back is welcome to return to the Dolphins if he really wants to play again.

Saban said he told Williams, who suddenly retired before last season at age 27 citing a lack of desire, “If you want to come back and play football, it’s your decision. If you’re willing to do the things you need to do to do that, you have an opportunity.”

Miami had the NFL’s second-worst ground game without Williams, so Saban isn’t foolish enough to rule out such a talent as a way to help the Dolphins rebound from a 4-12 record, their worst since 1969.

“Ricky has value to the organization,” Saban said. “He’s property of the Dolphins. He’s shown an ability to be a dominating player at times. So if Ricky shows some commitment in wanting to come back to the team, basically it’s our philosophy that we would support him to try to help him do that.”

Easing off — After back-to-back 2-4 starts in his first two seasons, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis is planning to lighten the Bengals’ workload this summer with a shorter training camp and shorter practices during camp.

“We’re going to get to the season fresher and more excited about it,” Lewis said. “I want to make sure we’re better rested. There’s the excitement of the opener, but then you find a dropoff if your team gets tired.”

Lewis also hinted that with the team’s contract at Georgetown (Ky.) College expiring after this summer, the Bengals may join the rising number of teams holding training camp at their own facilities.

Saints snubbed — The protracted negotiations between the Saints and the state of Louisiana over improvements to the Superdome have left New Orleans — host of a record nine Super Bowls — out of the loop for future title games. And Louisianans aren’t happy.

Louisiana officials expected to have until the NFL’s May 24-25 meetings in Washington to get their stadium plans in order. Instead, the league already has narrowed down its finalists for the 2009 game to Houston; Tampa, Fla.; Atlanta; or Miami.

What’s more, New York will get the 2010 game if the Jets can get their West Side stadium built, and Indianapolis, Dallas and Kansas City also figure to be awarded Super Bowls in following years.

“This is a total surprise to me,” said Jay Cicero, president of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation. “That’s not what the NFL originally indicated to us, the city or the state. To go back on that, I don’t think is fair. That’s pulling the rug out from under us.”

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