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eXcess and O's

Half Truths and False Moves

November 10, 2002|MIKE PENNER

The NFL season at halftime. Or: Time flies, even if you're a football fan in Cincinnati....

Most valuable player at the half: Brett Favre. Take him out of the Green Bay lineup (as a sprained knee suffered against Washington almost did). Take a look at what's left. That's a 7-1 team? That's a Super Bowl team? It is if Favre stays in the lineup and the Packers win the NFC home-field advantage. Favre is 6-0 in playoff games at Lambeau Field.

Most valuable off-season acquisition: Drew Bledsoe. Where would the Buffalo Bills be without him? Precisely where the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals are without him. The opportunity: Both the Bears and Bengals had their chances to trade for Bledsoe. The irony: Both the Bears and Bengals decided to, ahem, pass.

We know nothing: Pittsburgh and St. Louis, consensus Super Bowl favorites, began the season a combined 1-8.

But we are rallying: Led by the sure-handed quarterbacking of Tommy Maddox and Marc Bulger (of course), Pittsburgh and St. Louis are 7-0 over the last four weeks.

If you don't really need the BCS, we'll take it: Who's No. 1 in the NFL? Who knows? No power ranking can stick with a No. 1 team longer than Steve Spurrier sticks with a quarterback. The consensus has flip-flopped from St. Louis to New England to Oakland to Miami to New Orleans to San Diego to Green Bay. With Denver, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh on deck.

And they want more wild cards: Twelve teams will qualify for the NFL playoffs. Entering today's games, 11 teams have winning records.

As your attorney, I advise you to retire immediately: Months removed from the Pro Bowl, Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart was benched and replaced by an ex-XFL player, Maddox.

(Runner-up: Dallas quarterback Quincy Carter, who lost his job to a minor-league pitcher who hadn't thrown a football in a competitive game since 1997, Chad Hutchinson.)

Best place to recruit offensive talent: The Arena League. Following a trail blazed by Kurt Warner in 1999, Pittsburgh's Maddox, another Arena alum, is 4-1 since becoming the Steelers' starting quarterback. And Maddox's former New Jersey Red Dog teammate, Michael Lewis, had 356 all-purpose yards while returning a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns for New Orleans in Week 6.

Worst use of slow motion: Emmitt Smith's bearcrawl to history -- the final, plodding steps the old Cowboy needed to pass Walter Payton on the all-time rushing list. In his 13th season, Smith, 32, is averaging 66 yards a game. Try to remember the Super Bowl years, if you can.

Doomsday Offense: Worst game of 2002: Arizona 9, Dallas 6 (in overtime!). Second-worst game of 2002: Detroit 9, Dallas 7. Worst game of 2001: Dallas 9, Washington 7. What do these games have in common? And what will Dave Campo be doing this time next year?

Smartest rookie: Bryant McKinnie, who held out for half of the Minnesota Vikings' season.

Dumbest rookie: McKinnie, who, despite knowing what he now knows, signed with the Vikings last week.

Biggest brain cramp (player): Cleveland Linebacker Dwayne Rudd, for the Helmet Toss Heard 'Round the World, which cost the Browns a season-opening victory over Kansas City and, most likely, a trip to the playoffs.

Biggest brain cramp (team): The Denver Bronco field-goal unit, for walking off the field after Jason Elam's long field-goal sailed wide, enabling Baltimore's Chris McAllister to catch the ball and return it 107 yards for a touchdown.

Biggest brain cramp (coach): It took one Super Bowl defeat, an 0-5 start and injuries to his top two quarterbacks for St. Louis' Mike Martz to figure out that giving the ball to Marshall Faulk is a game plan with an upside.

Fade patterns: The Oakland Raiders started 4-0, followed by 0-4. The Carolina Panthers started 3-0, followed by 0-5. The Cincinnati Bengals started 0-7, followed by 1-0.

Worst uniform change: Seattle's all-khaki look. If Mike Holmgren was really so smart, he'd have held out for the camouflage.

(Runner-up: Cleveland's one-game experiment with the Great Pumpkin look. Orange football jerseys in Cleveland? What next, John Elway inducted into the Browns' Hall of Fame?)

Why no inquisition? Seattle cornerback Shawn Springs has the same financial advisor as Terrell Owens. Springs was allegedly covering Owens on his infamous mightier-than-the-sword pass route-and-pen stroke maneuver. Springs then watched Owens hand over the signed football to the financial advisor he and Owens share. All of this on "Monday Night Football." Hmmm. So what did Springs know? And when did he know it?

Money well spent: Redskin owner Daniel Snyder decided to fire last season's coach, Marty Schottenheimer, and pay Spurrier $25 million to replace him. Schottenheimer is 6-2 with the San Diego Chargers, who were 6-26 in 2000-01.

Spurrier had to beat the grounded Indianapolis Colts and the hapless Seahawks just to even his record at

4-4.

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