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20 Quick Hitters

Before the NFL season kicks off and the exclamation points start flying, there are some nagging questions to consider

September 06, 2004|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

The NFL questions have been stacking up all off-season. This week, we start getting some answers.

Can Joe Gibbs still coach after more than a decade in deep freeze?

Are the Philadelphia Eagles a Super Bowl team, or just a group of chokers with warning-track power?

Can quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who will turn 41 in November, revive and rescue the Dallas Cowboys, or would he be better off getting some R&R?

Among the Raiders, 49ers and Chargers, can California produce a team with a winning record?

Twenty more questions heading into kickoff weekend:

1. Why shouldn't you fret if your team loses its opener?

The last four Super Bowl champions have been no better than 9-7 the season before they won it all. For that matter, the last four Super Bowl losers have been no better than 10-6 in the previous season.

2. Why should you fret if your team loses its opener?

Since the league switched to a 16-game schedule in 1978 -- excluding the strike-shortened 1982 season -- the winning teams on kickoff weekend are more than twice as likely to make the playoffs.

The Houston Texans have the NFL's only unblemished record in openers (2-0), and the Seattle Seahawks are 8-20 in their openers, a hide-your-face 28.6%.

3. Even if San Francisco players don't rack up victories, what will they collect?

Lots and lots of frequent-flier miles. The 49ers have been upgraded to platinum this season, considering they'll fly a league-high total of 35,756 miles (including exhibition games). That includes trips to New York, New England and Tampa, Fla.

The Baltimore Ravens, meanwhile, will log a puny 4,650 miles, never traveling farther west than Indianapolis. Hey, didn't Jamal Lewis run for more yards than that last season?

4. Without Terrell Owens and Jeff Garcia, the San Francisco 49ers are in danger of being held scoreless at least once this season. What would be the salt in that wound?

San Francisco has gone 418 consecutive games without being shut out, a streak stretching back to the 1977 opener, when the 49ers lost at Pittsburgh, 27-0. That is by far an NFL record; the second-longest such streak was 274 games by the Cleveland Browns from 1950-71.

5. How is the Owens experiment working in Philadelphia?

So far, so good. Although Owens was much more involved in the first two exhibition games than in the last two, he said he's getting more comfortable with the offense and getting in sync with Donovan McNabb. The first real test comes Sunday against the New York Giants, whose secondary has been vulnerable to big plays of late.

6. What do Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger and Spergon Wynn have in common?

They are the six quarterbacks selected ahead of Tom Brady in the 2000 draft. Only Pennington and Bulger are NFL starters now. Brady, the 199th pick selected by New England near the end of the sixth round, has two Super Bowl most-valuable-player trophies to go with his two rings. He is 33-12 as a starter (73.3%), joining Hall of Fame members Joe Montana and Roger Staubach as the only quarterbacks to win more than 70% of their first 40 starts.

7. What unofficial distinction is Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe trying to avoid?

Being labeled the most overrated player in NFL history. When New England gave Bledsoe a 10-year, $103-million extension in 2001, then the richest contract in league history, Patriot owner Robert Kraft explained: "Quarterbacks like this come around once in a lifetime." Now that Brady has made the Patriots forget all that -- and allowed them to ship Bledsoe to the Bills -- the picture is a lot clearer.

Granted, Bledsoe can look spectacular when everything's working in his favor, but he has a losing record as a starter (77-78); a career postseason passer rating of 54.9; last season had more interceptions (12) than touchdown passes (11); was sacked a league-high 49 times in 2003; and last season went seven consecutive games without producing an offensive touchdown.

8. What should you never ask Arizona quarterback Josh McCown if you bump into him on the street?

"Didn't your brother play at UCLA?" He hears that all the time.

"Everybody who knew I had a brother who played college ball just assumed it was Cade McNown," said McCown, whose older brother, Randy, played quarterback at Texas A&M and whose younger brother, Luke, is a rookie quarterback with Cleveland. "So I'm answering those questions all the time. 'No, my brother's Randy. It's a different spelling, there's no N. It's McCown, not McNown.'

"It's even funny when I'm doing autographs. When people can look and read my name and they still say McNown, they still say, 'Is your brother Cade?' I'm like, 'No, it's a different spelling. It's just like if his name was Smith. It's a different spelling. We can't be related.' "

9. Why is McCown lucky to be coached by Dennis Green?

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