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SPORTS WEEKEND | AROUND THE NFC

WEST / Reeves Back in Denver

September 08, 2000|HOUSTON MITCHELL

Atlanta Coach Dan Reeves, coming off a 36-28 win over San Francisco, knows the importance of winning the season opener. As a head coach, he's 12-8 on opening days. In eight of the 11 previous years he won, his team went to the playoffs. Each of the eight times his teams lost, they failed to make the playoffs.

This Sunday the Falcons have to play at Denver, and the Broncos are near-unbeatable at home. This will be Reeves' first game there since he was fired in 1992.

Reeves is 0-2 against the Broncos, including a 34-19 loss in Super Bowl XXXIII.

The Rams showed they haven't lost a step on offense in Monday's 41-36 win over the Broncos, but the defense is a concern. Coach Mike Martz, who handles the Ram offensive play-calling and doesn't concern himself with the defense during the game, said some of the defensive problems were due to a wave of cramps that struck several players in the second half.

"We had some guys playing out of position," Martz said. "Those are not excuses."

Carolina has to hope left tackle Clarence Jones can recover from his embarrassing performance against Washington. He let Bruce Smith race by him for two sacks and was called for four penalties.

After the game, Jones was so upset he was on the verge of tears and had to put off interviews until he gathered himself.

"I got out of my game plan a little bit and struggled with a couple of the upfield moves. Once I got out of my game plan, I lost focus," Jones said.

The Panthers need Jones to protect quarterback Steve Beuerlein, or it will be a long season.

For all their off-season changes, the New Orleans Saints looked similar to the lame team they put on the field last season in their 14-10 season-opening loss to Detroit.

"It wasn't very good, nothing went right," Coach Jim Haslett said. "We had fumbles, interceptions, we didn't move the ball consistently, and we kept killing drives with penalties." Other than that, it was perfect.

Many 49er fans say their team won't be good this season, and consider this a rebuilding year and a foundation for the future. A tip for those fans: When your foundation is Jeff Garcia, don't plan on building a skyscraper.

CENTRAL / Feeding Lions to Redskins

The Lions don't have their starting lineup intact, they barely survived the season opener against a horrible New Orleans team, and now they're going head to head with the best team Daniel Snyder's money can buy. Welcome to your first loss of the season.

The Vikings play Miami on Sunday, and view this game as the crucial one on the way to their goal of starting the season 4-0.

"We know this," Coach Dennis Green said. "You've got to win at home. If you expect to be a playoff team you have to win at home. We have a very difficult schedule, so we're not going to blow very many people out. We got what we wanted, the first win.

"Now we have to get a win at home against Miami, and then go on the road for two games [at New England and, after an open date, at Detroit]. We have been very good into and out of the bye, but we have to get there first. So this game against the Dolphins is going to be crucial."

Bear quarterback Cade McNown better watch out, because Tampa Bay, which plays Chicago on Sunday, had six sacks and forced a fumble last week at New England.

"That's what we do. There's no secret," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "We're not building a rocket. We get off the ball, we use our technique and go and get the quarterback."

The continuing absence of No. 3 wideout Corey Bradford because of a broken leg is a major factor why the Packer passing game has yet to shine. In a 20-16 loss to the Jets on Sunday, the Packers used rookie Charles Lee as the No. 3. Both Lee and Antonio Freeman, the leader of the receiving corps, hurt the cause with dropped passes.

"In order for us to be competitive our good players have to play well," General Manager Ron Wolf said. "Too many dropped passes. Maybe two weeks from now we can handle that. We can't now."

EAST / Giant Pain in the Ear

The Giants travel to Philadelphia with a chance to improve to 2-0, and more important, 2-0 in the NFC East.

"Of course this game has added significance," Coach Jim Fassel said. "It is a real challenge to us, being on the road, and in that place." That place is Veterans Stadium, which is so loud that Fassel had crowd noises deafening the players during practice all week.

The Eagles, meanwhile, expect a bigger test from the Giants than they got from Dallas.

"Because of the kind of game it was [against Dallas], with us jumping out in front and them having to play catch up and throw the ball, we didn't really get a good gauge on our ability to play the run," Eagle Coach Andy Reid said. "But I'm fairly certain we will this week."

The Redskins were routed by the Detroit Lions, 33-17, in the Silverdome last year, but won a playoff game at FedEx Field. The final meeting saw a major brawl that cost 23 Redskins and Lions an NFL-record $154,000. The rematch is Sunday.

If losing their home opener, 41-14, to the Eagles wasn't bad enough, the Cowboys have lost eight consecutive road games heading into Sunday night's nationally televised game against the Arizona Cardinals.

"I think we'll find out a lot about our football team," Coach Dave Campo said. "I think we'll find the fighters on this team, and I have a good feeling we'll go and show last week isn't representative of the kind of team we have."

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