- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007

NO LONGER SUCH HOT SEATS

When the season started, the Rewind believed no NFL coaches were in bigger jeopardy of losing their jobs than Tampa Bay’s Jon Gruden and Cleveland’s Romeo Crennel.

Gruden, the toast of Tampa, Fla., after winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl in his debut season of 2002, went 27-38 in the four seasons since, including a wild-card playoff loss to visiting Washington in 2005. The Bucs’ prospects didn’t seem great this season, especially after the Seattle Seahawks smacked them around 20-6 in Week 1.

However, as October opens, the Bucs (3-1) are alone atop the NFC South thanks to a resurgent defense that allowed just 24 points combined to New Orleans, Carolina and St. Louis.

Crennel”s team, meanwhile, went the wrong way a year ago, slipping from 6-10 in his debut season to 4-12 in 2006. The Browns, 1-11 in the AFC North under Crennel, nearly were a unanimous pick to finish last yet again despite drafting offensive tackle Joe Thomas and quarterback Brady Quinn.

That appeared likely after Pittsburgh pounded the Browns 34-7 in Week 1. However, Cleveland (2-2) is tied for second in the AFC North after stunning division rival Baltimore 27-13 on Sunday, two weeks after lightly regarded quarterback Derek Anderson led the Browns to a wild 51-45 victory against visiting Cincinnati.

Don’t expect the good feelings to last too long for either team; Cleveland visits Super Bowl favorite New England this week, while Tampa Bay visits defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis.

BOY OH ‘BOYS

Word to the wise, Cowboy-haters: It figures to be a long year. Dallas is 4-0 for just the third time in 24 years, and the previous two times — 1992 and 1995 — they won the Super Bowl.

Dallas’ victory margins have increased each week under new coach Wade Phillips from 10 over the New York Giants to 17 over Miami to 24 over defending NFC champion Chicago to 28 on Sunday over suddenly forlorn St. Louis. Quarterback Tony Romo is more than proving he’s for real, and the defense is improving each week.

Although the Cowboys face a huge test Oct. 14 against the Patriots, the rest of their month includes the lightweight Bills and Vikings and a bye week. That should put Dallas in good shape for its early November trifecta against NFC East rivals Philadelphia, New York and Washington, all of whom already trail by at least 1½ games.

BUILDING SACK MACHINES

Remember that old Wonder Bread slogan “Building Strong Bodies 12 Ways?” Well, the Rewind has noticed that playing the Redskins seems to do wonders for a team”s pass rush the following week.

Philadelphia sacked Washington’s Jason Campbell just once Sept. 17 and was upset at home. The Eagles took out their frustrations six days later, sacking Detroit’s Jon Kitna nine times. The nine sacks were the second most in team history.

The Giants sacked Campbell twice Sept. 23. A week later, the Giants tied the NFL single-game record with 12 against the Eagles. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora set a team record with six.

Left for dead at 0-2 and trailing the Redskins 17-3 on the road at halftime, the Giants outscored Washington and Philadelphia 40-3 over the past six quarters. New York is 2-0 in the NFC East for the second straight year and just the second time in a decade.

NOT JUST NORV

The Rewind will never defend Norv Turner’s leadership skills, but San Diego’s shocking 1-3 start is more the fault of Chargers president Dean Spanos and general manager A.J. Smith for firing proven (regular-season) winner Marty Schottenheimer.

And don’t forget to blame new defensive boss Ted Cottrell. After three strong seasons as Buffalo’s coordinator from 1998 to 2000 and a mixed performance the next three years with the New York Jets, Cottrell’s Minnesota defenses were so porous in 2004 and 2005 that he was out of football last season.

San Diego’s defense last year led the NFL with 61 sacks, ranked seventh against the run and 10th overall. But in four games under Cottrell with virtually the same personnel, the Chargers have just nine sacks, are 12th against the run and are 25th overall. Maybe it’s time for Norv to call Ron Lynn about a reunion. At least Lynn had a deadpan sense of humor, which looks like it’s going to be needed in San Diego.

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