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Two-and-Out a Danger in This League

September 17, 2004|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

The Times' rating scale for this week's NFL games:

**** Don't miss a down.

*** Could be good.

** Who let the dogs out?

* Stupor Bowl.

Chick Hearn, the late Laker broadcaster, once announced that the team was about to play its biggest game of the regular season. The Lakers were 1-2 at the time.

In basketball, hockey and baseball, the first few games are merely the first steps of a marathon.

But there is no such luxury in football, more sprint than marathon. Two games in the NFL are one-eighth of the season. An 0-2 start can be the first steps of a lost year.

This weekend, 16 of the 32 teams are facing that possibility, among them the Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens, all clubs with great expectations. "One game doesn't define a season," Carolina center Jeff Mitchell said.

But two might.

**** Carolina at Kansas City, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- One of these will be 0-2, and unless the Panther defense tightens up, it will be Carolina. Monday night, Green Bay's Ahman Green ran for 119 yards and scored three touchdowns against the Panthers. Now comes Kansas City's Priest Holmes.

**** Denver at Jacksonville, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The Jaguars have begun 2-0 in four of their last six seasons. Can the Broncos' Quentin Griffin -- 156 yards rushing and three touchdowns last week -- be an effective long-term replacement for Clinton Portis?

**** Indianapolis at Tennessee, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- This may be a duel between last year's co-MVPs, quarterbacks Peyton Manning of the Colts and Steve McNair of the Titans.

*** Washington at New York Giants, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- One coach has revitalized his team, the other is fining players for not showing up early enough to meetings. Guess which one is Joe Gibbs and which is Tom Coughlin.

*** St. Louis at Atlanta, Sunday 10 a.m. -- Falcon Coach Jim Mora, a former defensive coordinator, will need that expertise if he hopes to stop the high-powered Rams. St. Louis has beaten Atlanta seven in a row, scoring more than 30 points in each game.

** Pittsburgh at Baltimore, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Baltimore's Jamal Lewis, who rushed for 2,066 yards last season, gained only 57 yards last week against Cleveland. On the other side today will be a fantasy geek's dream, Jerome Bettis, who gained only one yard last week but scored three touchdowns.

* Houston at Detroit, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The Texans will be playing the Lions for the first time. The Lions beat the Bears in Chicago to end a league-record 24-game losing streak on the road, but lost wide receiver Charles Rogers because of a broken collarbone.

* San Francisco at New Orleans, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The 49ers won't have Tim Rattay, having lost their new starting quarterback because of a separated shoulder. Ken Dorsey is expected to replace him. In hurricane country, the Saints are just happy to have their dome.

* Chicago at Green Bay, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- This is the latest renewal of a rivalry that began in 1921, the Bears holding an 83-77-6 edge. But the Packers have won the last seven.

*** Cleveland at Dallas, Sunday, 1 p.m. -- Can Jeff Garcia find success in Cleveland? Can Coach Bill Parcells find satisfaction in Dallas with 40-year-old quarterback Vinny Testaverde and a running back apparently past his prime in Eddie George?

*** Seattle at Tampa Bay, Sunday, 1 p.m. -- Seattle, 2-6 on the road last season, won in New Orleans last week. Now the Seahawks face an angry Buccaneer team held to 30 yards rushing and no offensive touchdowns by Washington last week.

** Buffalo at Oakland, Sunday, 1 p.m. -- How long has it been since the Raiders played host to the Bills? The winning quarterback the last time was Todd Marinovich, who threw two touchdown passes to lead the Los Angeles Raiders to a 20-3 victory at the Coliseum in October 1992.

** New England at Arizona, Sunday, 1 p.m. -- This figures to be a highly emotional game, but not strictly because of what happens when the clock is running. The emotion will build at halftime, when the Cardinals honor former player Pat Tillman, killed while on Army duty in Afghanistan.

** New York Jets at San Diego, Sunday, 1 p.m. -- Curtis Martin, at 31, rushed for 196 yards, scored two touchdowns and looked better than he has in years last week. Will that Martin show up today? The Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson shows up every week.

* Miami at Cincinnati, Sunday, 5:30 p.m. -- Bengal quarterback Carson Palmer showed flashes of brilliance last week. The Dolphins didn't show even a flicker of offense.

**** Minnesota at Philadelphia, Monday, 6 p.m. -- Two of the league's biggest showmen -- receivers Terrell Owens of the Eagles and Randy Moss of the Vikings -- are going to have to share the Monday night spotlight. Wonder what gimmick Owens has cooked up to outshine Moss.

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