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NFL Spotlight | SIDELINES

Rice Has the Name, Mitchell the Record

September 22, 2003|Houston Mitchell | Times Staff Writer

Most football fans -- even a lot of non-fans -- have heard of Jerry Rice, but how many have heard of New York Giant kick returner and running back Brian Mitchell?

On Sunday, Mitchell moved ahead of Rice -- at least for a day -- as the NFL's all-time leader in combined yards.

Mitchell had 95 combined yards -- 10 receiving and 85 on kickoff returns -- in the Giants' 24-21 overtime victory Sunday over the Washington Redskins. That gives him 22,379 total yards, passing Rice's 22,331.

Rice has a chance to take the record back tonight, when his Oakland Raiders play Denver, although Mitchell is favored to eventually move ahead for good because he gets most of his yards returning kicks.

Which of course will bring about the inevitable lawsuit from Al Davis.

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Here's the next big conflict in sports: punters and statisticians. For example, Raider punter Shane Lechler doesn't agree with the fact the Raiders are ranked second-to-last in punting.

Oakland is allowing opposing punt returners an average of 16.3 yards, nearly twice that of the NFL average. The Raiders are 31st overall in the coverage rankings, besting only the Arizona Cardinals, who are giving up an average of 21.2 yards a return.

"I hate that statistic," Lechler said. "It's the worst in the NFL."

Lechler's reasoning is simple: By looking at return yardage rather than punting and net averages, critics unfairly label the Raiders a poor punting team. Lechler is averaging 52.2 yards on 13 punts this season.

Those who disagree with Lechler cite a few reasons:

* Punting? Is that what they call that play during which most people go grab a quick snack from the kitchen?

* Kathy Ireland kicked the ball real well in "Necessary Roughness." Why can't the Raiders sign her?

* What's the deal with that mule "Gus" from that Disney film? Why hasn't any team signed him yet? (Yes, he was a kicker, not a punter, but aren't they interchangeable?)

* Who can forget being a kid, playing football with your friends and dreaming of one day kicking the Super Bowl-winning punt?

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For those of you who are still fans of the Chargers (0-3), Bengals (0-3), Jaguars (0-3) and Jets (0-3), take heart. Since 1990, three teams that began the season 0-3 have made the playoffs. Those teams: The 1992 Chargers (started 0-4, lost in the divisional playoffs), the 1995 Lions (0-3, lost in a wild-card game) and the 1998 Bills (0-3, lost in a wild-card game).

Actually, if you are a Bengal fan, you have a lot bigger problems in your life to worry about. Really now, of the 32 NFL teams, you chose the Bengals?

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How bad do you have to be to get released moments before a game begins? Just before losing to Tennessee, 27-12, the New Orleans Saints released running back Ki-Jana Carter and signed J.T. O'Sullivan, giving them a No. 3 quarterback.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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