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NFL Spotlight | WEEK 4 IN THE NFL / MIKE PENNER

Texans Stir a Pack of Memories

September 29, 2003|MIKE PENNER

The Ice Bowl, it wasn't.

There is no tundra in Texas. The quarterback's name was Carr, not Starr. And that was no Doomsday Defense digging in for the last-second, goal-line stand. No, those were only Jacksonville Jaguars. For them, doomsday is just another term for Our Typical NFL Sunday.

Still, Dom Capers' decision to go for the touchdown instead of the chip-shot, score-tying field goal on the final play of Sunday's Houston-Jacksonville game was a jolt of piping hot coffee to a league frozen with fear -- fear of failure, fear of ridicule in the next day's papers, fear of what team ownership might do tomorrow if that final crucial yard isn't successfully negotiated today.

With his Texans trailing Jacksonville, 20-17, with two seconds left and the ball on the Jaguar one-yard line, Capers bypassed the sure field goal, refused to play for overtime and rolled the dice on an all-or-nothing quarterback sneak by David Carr.

Thirty-six years ago, Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers won a league championship this way. Sunday at Reliant Stadium, Capers' Texans were just trying to even their record in the first month of their second season.

In '67, it was Bart Starr behind the block of Jerry Kramer.

In '03, it was Carr over the top and breaking the plane.

Texans win, 24-20, as the game clock ticks to 0:00.

Starr's touchdown sent the Packers into the second Super Bowl, where they would close out the Lombardi era with a victory over Oakland.

Carr's touchdown sent the Texans 2-2 into their bye week.

But who knows where the emotional residue might carry Capers' young team from here? It was the kind of call on which a franchise can turn -- as the Minnesota Vikings continued to illustrate as they ran their 2003 record to 4-0 by pounding the San Francisco 49ers, 35-7.

Last December, the Vikings were playing out the string on another lousy season, dragging a 3-10 record into a meaningless game in New Orleans. A touchdown with five seconds left pulled Minnesota within 31-30, pending the extra-point attempt.

Rather than kick it and head to overtime, Viking Coach Mike Tice opted to go for two.

Daunte Culpepper took the snap, plunged into the end zone and Minnesota emerged with a league-startling, against-the-grain 32-31 triumph.

The Vikings haven't lost since.

Including that victory over the Saints, Minnesota is on a 7-0 run. One month into the 2003 schedule and the Vikings control the NFC North. They are 3-0 in the division, having swept Chicago, Green Bay and Detroit. And their victory over San Francisco dropped last season's NFC West champions to 1-3, leaving 49er receiver Terrell Owens ranting in frustration at his offensive coordinator and any reporter who would listen.

Interesting that this would happen against the 49ers, who fired coach Steve Mariucci partly because of Mariucci's timid play-calling tendencies. Could a new strain of coaching courage be breaking out around the league? Herman Edwards faked a field goal last week, trying to shake the New York Jets out of their September lethargy. It didn't work, but Edwards vehemently defended the decision, insisting his team plays to win, even if the standings have yet to provide much backup.

(And it doesn't get much worse than where the Jets found themselves in Week 4. They are 0-4 after losing at home, 17-6, to the Dallas Cowboys, who are coached by the man who used to coach the Jets, Bill Parcells. Can it get any more depressing? Well, that depends on how one feels about the sanctity of the NFL record book. Against the Cowboys, Vinny Testaverde completed the 3,301st pass of his career, moving him past Dan Fouts into fifth place on the all-time list.)

Speaking of record performances, Owens' postgame interview-room tirade checked in at 11 minutes, during which Owens criticized San Francisco play-calling, his teammates and basically everything about San Francisco except Barry Bonds and the quality of the sourdough.

"What am I doing here?" asked Owens, posing the same existential question that vexed Cincinnati Bengal fans as they settled in front of their television sets, bracing for another round of intrastate degradation at the hands of the Cleveland Browns.

How about this? Jon Kitna throws for three touchdowns -- all of them for Cincinnati! -- and the Bengals win ... by a touchdown ... on the road ... and get to do what they've always wanted to do, what the big boys do, and that's dump a tub of Gatorade over the head of their head coach.

Yes, it's all true. The Bengals won a game. In Cleveland. By a final score of 21-14. And Marvin Lewis is no longer winless as an NFL head coach.

But there's more. With about a minute and a half to go, Bengal defensive end Justin Smith celebrated his sack of the Browns' quarterback by kneeling and pretending to pound imaginary nails into an imaginary coffin. Can you imagine?

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