Be careful what you wish for: Before the season, Atlanta Coach Dan Reeves thought to himself maybe the Falcons could improve from 7-9 to 9-7--and dreaming the impossible dream, maybe win 10 games and make the playoffs.
Done. Now what?
"It's OK to change that goal now," said Reeves, who is actually in position to consider a Super Bowl visit. "We've overcome so many things that people said hadn't been done, [for example,] winning without Chris [Chandler] is one of those hurdles I thought we had to cross."
The Falcons won last week with 44-year-old Steve DeBerg, and improved to 3-1 in games missed or left early by Chandler. Last year, the Falcons were 0-6 in such games.
The Carolina Panthers' punishment couldn't be any harsher: They suspended running back Fred Lane for making an obscene gesture to Jets' fans, knowing full well they would have to play Tshimanga Biakabutuka in his place.
"We felt it was an inappropriate gesture that needed to be responded to," said Coach Dom Capers, offering no comment on why hometown fans also had to be punished by having to watch Biakabutuka. "We're in an image business. That's not the type of image that we want to portray of the Carolina Panthers."
Losing is OK, though.
CENTRAL / It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Clearance
The Bears traded for Rick Mirer, then let him go, kept Erik Kramer, knowing that injuries kept him from finishing eight consecutive seasons, and backed him up with Steve Stenstrom and Moses Moreno, the eighth of eight quarterbacks drafted.
Then they passed on Kerry Collins when the Panthers waived him.
The Bears are obviously positioning themselves to punt on first down.
Chicago had the option of claiming Collins ahead of New Orleans by virtue of a worse record, but considered the $100 waiver fee and Collins' remaining salary too high.
Take up a collection. The fans would pay for something better than what's behind center right now.
"You talk about everything as you go along and we went through that process and evaluated that situation," said Mark Hatley, Bears' personnel whiz. "We ended up not doing it."
Moreno is 0-1 as a starter and hobbling on a sprained ankle. Stenstrom was 0-3, with the offense having scored 19 points. Kramer is out for the year--injured again.
No one is complaining on the Bears' roster, of course. Defensive end Mark Thomas, No. 2 on the team with 4 1/2 sacks, took exception to the way things were going, said so to defensive line coach Clarence Brooks and was dismissed this week.
The Bears insisted Thomas was released because he was not playing well, and not because he expressed his unhappiness.
"If you're going to let people go who mouth [off] every week, you might have to let half your football team go," Hatley said.
Finally--a solution for the Bears.
EAST / Cowboys Might Be in Deep Trouble
The Cowboys have no one to cover opponents' wide receivers but fortunately play the Saints, who have no one to catch the ball.
Starters Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith, with toe and back problems, respectively, are expected to miss the game, and No. 3 corner Kevin Mathis, who has been out because of a broken forearm, might be rushed back to fill in along with Larry Brown, the former Super Bowl MVP who was re-signed this week.
The Saints might never again have a better chance to score, and score big. The Cowboys have given up six pass plays of 50 yards or more in their last three games, and 18 plays of 20 yards or more.