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THE NFL WEEK 3

Times NFL Writer T.J. Simers Poses--and Answers--The Burning Questions on : GAME DAY

September 14, 1997|T.J. SIMERS

Question: At what point does Mike Ditka start setting records?

Answer: Of the 11 previous head coaches for the Saints, Tom Fears took the longest to win his first game.

After seven consecutive losses, Fears finally won in 1967. Interim coach Rick Venturi needed seven games to record his first win.

So far Ditka is 0-3 (we're already counting today's loss to San Francisco), and looking ahead at the Saints' schedule, there's a chance for a victory in Chicago in the sixth game, maybe the seventh game at home against Atlanta, and after that it could be Game No. 11 against Seattle.

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Q: Dan Reeves, why bother?

A: Your best running back has 75 yards in 37 carries in two games and now has an ankle so sore he can't walk without a limp. Your best quarterback is the worst starting quarterback in the league and he has a concussion. Your top backup quarterback is so bad you can't even come up with weak excuses to save him from further humiliation.

Your only hope if you are Reeves, coach of the Atlanta Falcons, might be Tony Graziani. He's a hockey player, isn't he?

No, he's a seventh-round draft pick from Oregon and the Falcons' No. 3 quarterback, and apparently the games must go on.

"If Billy Joe [Tolliver] can't do it down the road, we'll give Tony a chance and see if he can do it," Reeves said. "I hate to throw him into a situation like that because he's so young. But we may not have a choice."

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Q: How's that return on the St. Louis Rams' $29.4-million investment in Orlando Pace?

A: The Rams let him play 12 snaps against the Saints in their opener, and then reduced his playing time to six plays against San Francisco. Pace didn't make it onto the field for the second half against the 49ers, and he can't beat out Wayne Gandy, which is to say he must be a real bust.

And why is he not playing? He lacks a "total understanding of the offensive fundamentals," Coach Dick Vermeil said. That's all.

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Q: What has been the impact of this year's NFL draft beyond Pace?

A: NFL teams still have 185 of the 240 players taken in this year's draft on their rosters, but only 23 rookies started on opening day. Five teams (New Orleans, Washington, San Francisco, Oakland and Atlanta) kept all their drafted players on their 53-man roster.

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Q: And what's the quote of the week?

A: In last week's overtime loss to Miami, Tennessee cornerback Tomur Barnes was penalized for unnecessary roughness for shoving Dolphin wide receiver Fred Barnett's helmet into the ground with Barnett's head still in the helmet. So instead of Miami trying a 41-yard kick to win the game, the Dolphins kicked a 29-yarder and won.

Running down a list of his team's injuries the next day, Tennessee Coach Jeff Fisher said, "And we had an MRI on Tomur Barnes' head to see what's in there."

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