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WEEK 1 IN THE NFL / MIKE PENNER

These Teams Made Some Uniformly Poor Decisions

September 08, 2003|MIKE PENNER

Sometimes, winning and losing in the NFL comes down to more than what's underneath the jersey and what's inside the helmet.

Sunday, for instance, was all about pants.

The St. Louis Rams changed the color of theirs, to a dark blue hue, and Kurt Warner spent much of the game on the seat of his. He was sacked six times, he fumbled six times, he sustained a concussion and he began a new season the same way he spent the last one -- losing, again, this time to the New York Giants, 23-13.

The Cincinnati Bengals, desperate for anything that might change the league's sorriest stretch of rotten luck, paired black pants with black jerseys, hoping to go Darth Vader on the visiting Denver Broncos. Instead, the Bengals succeeded in only psyching out themselves, their uniforms a constant reminder of the last dozen dark seasons, and, well, all you had to do was wait for the blackout. Broncos 30, Bengals 10.

The Cleveland Browns donned orange pants for the first time in two decades. Unfortunately, they could not bring back Brian Sipe and Ozzie Newsome with them. Indianapolis Colts 9, Retro-Orange Browns 6.

Then there was David Carr's pants. They began the day white and four quarters later, they were still the same. No mud. No blood. No loose shreds being used as dental floss by a defensive lineman.

In a development that stopped the presses in Houston -- and the Super Bowl Express in Miami -- Texan quarterback Carr, who was sacked a league-record 76 times in 2002, was not sacked once by the Dolphins.

This despite:

a) A Dolphin defensive line anchored by Jason Taylor, who led the NFL with 18 1/2 sacks last season.

b) A Dolphin defense that ranked third in the league in 2002 and added Junior Seau during the off-season.

c) A Texan offensive line that was mockingly featured in a pre-draft TV commercial by not being featured at all in the commercial. You remember it: Carr is shown lining up behind center with no guards, no tackles, no tight end. See, Carr has no offensive line -- get it?

Sunday, the joke was on the Dolphins, who reverted to late-season form a little earlier than usual. Favored by 14 points -- the biggest spread of the day -- the Dolphins, undefeated in their last 11 openers, lost at home to the second-year Texans, 21-20.

This took some doing, considering Houston went 4-12 in 2002 and 0-4 during the exhibition season. And it was a convincing 0-4; the Texans were outscored during August, 107-38.

But there's a book on how to beat the Dolphins -- you shut down Ricky Williams and force Jay Fiedler to try to win the game -- and say this much for the Texans: They know how to read. Williams, the NFL's leading rusher in 2002, managed only 69 yards in 17 carries against Houston.

Still, the Dolphins led by two points late in the fourth quarter, and had the ball. It was no time to panic.

Considering the clock, the crowd and opposition, it was time to give the ball to Williams and, if necessary, close out the game with the defense.

Instead, Fiedler went wild.

He dropped back to pass (uh-oh).

He glanced toward the left sideline (look, there's Brian Griese).

And then he threw (look, there's Marcus Coleman).

Coleman stepped in to intercept for Houston and return the ball to Miami's 35-yard line.

Seven plays later, with 25 seconds remaining, Kris Brown kicked his fifth field goal of the game and, a few moments after that, the Dolphins were booed off the field.

It was a dumb decision coupled with poor execution, but it wasn't the dumbest or most poorly executed pass of the day. For that, Fiedler can thank the Bengals.

The Bengals began this season with a new look, a new coach and new hope. They also have a new quarterback, but Carson Palmer is an untested rookie, so Palmer stood on the sideline and watched Jon Kitna demonstrate why the Bengals went for a passer with the first pick of the draft.

It was still a 17-point game early in the third quarter when Kitna dropped back near his goal line and, under pressure, decided this was a fine time to field-test a two-handed shovel pass or fine-tune his pickup-game set-shot. One or the other. Kitna got both hands behind the ball and gave it a good push.

It wobbled sadly a few yards and plopped into the arms of Denver linebacker Ian Gold, who carried it 12 yards into the end zone for a 27-3 Bronco lead.

Speaking of ill-advised wobblers, Kordell Stewart made his debut for the Chicago Bears in San Francisco. At the same time, Tommy Maddox was making the first opening-day start of his NFL career in Pittsburgh.

Did the Steelers keep the right quarterback?

Maddox completed 21 of 29 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-15 victory over Baltimore.

Stewart had three passes intercepted, fumbled once and fertilized the 3Com Park turf with 20 incompletions in 34 attempts. Chicago suffered its worst defeat since 1977, losing to the 49ers, 49-7.

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