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Chiefs Are Exception to Parity Rule, So Far

November 09, 2003|Bob Oates | Special to The Times

The parity snare, so-called, is now so all-embracing in pro football that, with few exceptions, 21st-century teams don't open the season with nine-game winning streaks.

Kansas City's 8-0 Chiefs can be one of the exceptions. In a Week 9 headliner, the Chiefs will be at home today to the 3-5 Cleveland Browns.

Although they're in a league with a number of good teams -- defining a good team as one with a strong defense and a skillful quarterback -- the Chiefs alone are undefeated after two months of football with two months left.

Thus their veteran coach, Dick Vermeil, has the NFL's Team of the Half Year.

And if Vermeil's players win today -- with Cincinnati, Oakland and San Diego next -- they will move a step closer to a playoff showdown with, possibly, the Indianapolis Colts (7-1).

They aren't scheduled against Indianapolis in the final eight weeks of the regular season.

If, however, it's Chiefs vs. Colts for the AFC title later on, one question is whether Chief quarterback Trent Green can hold his own with the flashier Colt quarterback, Peyton Manning.

Otherwise, these teams' running backs are about even (though Edgerrin James is faster than Kansas City's Priest Holmes) and the defenses are about even.

In the whole of the American Conference, only three clubs seem to have a champion's chance: Tennessee (6-2), New England (7-2) and Denver (5-4).

Food for thought: All three can out-pass Kansas City -- the Titans with Steve McNair, the Patriots with Tom Brady and the Broncos if Jake Plummer recovers fully from injury.

Top-Coach Matchup

Denver Coach Mike Shanahan, carefully directing a third-string quarterback, Danny Kanell, guided the Broncos to the one-point lead they carried into the last half-minute Monday night at Mile High Stadium.

Then New England Coach Bill Belichick's first-string quarterback, Brady, one of the NFL's great bomb throwers, won it, 30-26, with a deep sideline shot to young wide receiver David Givins, last year's last-round draft choice from Notre Dame who faked the Bronco coverage into the end zone before ducking away to catch the perfectly placed pass.

Earlier Brady bombs, measuring up to 48 and, once, 66 yards, kept New England in a rousing game.

It was a rare prime-time matchup of top-level NFL strategist-philosophers, Shanahan and Belichick, both recent Super Bowl winners and both pass-offense enthusiasts.

And Shanahan led at the half, 17-13, after patiently nursing the Broncos along on a 55-yard touchdown drive with Kanell's small repertoire of passes, including frequent throwaways.

This suggested that Shanahan might have won if he'd had his first-string quarterback, Plummer, who missed the game with a broken foot.

Though Jake the Snake is expected back to lead the Broncos' last-half-season playoff charge, the Monday nighter belonged to Belichick and his bomb-thrower.

Balance of the Best

Pro football's 24 or 25 best defensive teams are all so powerful these days that most games are a struggle for even a quarterback like Indianapolis' Manning.

At Jacksonville today, Manning is an obvious favorite, but he had to throw 37 times last Sunday, completing 23 for 266 yards, to get a six-point victory (23-17) over new Miami quarterback Brian Griese, who was 18 for 29 for 231.

Manning moved the Colts repeatedly against Miami's sound defensive team, covering no fewer than 65 yards on each of six drives, but could drive them all the way only twice. That matched Griese's two-touchdown output for the Dolphins.

Actually, Griese's big plays were more impressive than Manning's. A well-placed Griese bomb set Miami up for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, and in the second half his 23-yard touchdown pass (to Chris Chambers) was the longest of the game by anybody.

When good pro clubs get together -- some two dozen of them are playing this year in the 32-team NFL -- that's often the way it goes:

* The league's many superior defenses are in charge most of the time, but not on every play. No defensive team has ever played without error for 60 minutes. Nor is it possible to line up a perfect defense every time.

* And when NFL offensive teams execute with exactness, which happens once in a while, their many superior passers, earning or setting up a few touchdowns and field goals, can beat the great defenses.

For numerous reasons, the NFL is in balance now. But it's a balance not of mediocrity but of good teams and good players, the best football players there are.

All Passers Jumpy

Here are four reasons why new San Francisco quarterback Tim Rattay might not perform as effectively every time as he did the other day when he completed a long series of nearly perfect passes to rout the St. Louis Rams, 30-10:

* He isn't big enough or strong enough to be a great pro quarterback in this era. At 6 feet and 200 pounds, Rattay can, of course, play awhile. The question is how long. The son of a coach, he looks like most coaches' sons: studious, informed, proficient. That was enough to overthrow the Rams.

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