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For Unbeaten Lions, It's Too Early to Roar

September 24, 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.

Heading into the third weekend of the season, it's not surprising there is a matchup of unbeaten teams.

The surprise is that one of those teams is the Detroit Lions, at home against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions finished 5-11 last year, putting an exclamation point on their dismal season by extending their losing streak on the road to a league-record 24 games.

Can Coach Steve Mariucci, starting his second season in Detroit, make the Lions a postseason contender as he did in San Francisco with the 49ers?

The Lions suffered what could have been a serious setback opening day when wide receiver Charles Rogers broke a collarbone and was lost for the season. Rookie Roy Williams has stepped in, though, and stepped up. After two touchdowns catches last weekend, he is the NFC leader in yards per catch with 17.8

Williams, however, refuses to get caught up in the hype.

"We've won just two games, that's all," he said. "Come back in the 14th game of the season, when we have a winning record, and I'll show more excitement."

Williams has a point. Three teams -- Washington, Buffalo and Minnesota -- started 2-0 last season, yet failed to make the playoffs.

****Philadelphia at Detroit, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- If the Lions win, it will be their first 3-0 start since 1980. The Eagles, after setting a team record last season for fewest turnovers with 22, are again holding onto the ball, with only one turnover in their first two games.

***Chicago at Minnesota, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- If he gets into Sunday's game, it will be an NFL-record 341st for Viking kicker Morten Andersen, breaking a tie with George Blanda. The Bears' Thomas Jones, who has increased his rushing total in each of the last three seasons, ran for 152 yards last week against the Packers.

***Jacksonville at Tennessee, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The Jaguars are also undefeated, no thanks to their offense. Jacksonville is the first team since the 1942 Chicago Cardinals to open a season 2-0 while scoring a total of 20 points. The Titans have beaten the Jaguars five consecutive times and in nine of the last 11.

*Baltimore at Cincinnati, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Bengal quarterback Carson Palmer has a 2-1 record against Raven quarterback Kyle Boller. Should that be considered a factor? No, since those games were played when Palmer was at USC and Boller at Cal.

*Arizona at Atlanta, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Emmitt Smith has averaged 99.3 yards and 4.9 a carry against the Falcons. Of course, Smith's statistics must be tempered by the fact that this Emmitt Smith looks about as much like the one who played for the Cowboys as Will Smith looks like Muhammad Ali.

*Cleveland at New York Giants, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The Browns' defense has allowed only four plays from scrimmage inside its own 20-yard line in its last eight quarters and leads the league with five interceptions. Giant quarterback Kurt Warner may be only 1-9 in his last 10 starts, but he has won 10 of his last 13 against the AFC.

**New Orleans at St. Louis, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Warner's successor with the Rams, Marc Bulger, has a 19-5 record as a starter. The Saints have had their problems, going 8-8 last season and 1-1 this year. Maybe they should just stay on the road, where they are 19-13 under Coach Jim Haslett.

**Houston at Kansas City, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Chiefs' running back Priest Holmes is hampered by a sprained ankle, cornerback Eric Warfield was arrested for drunk driving earlier this week and the team is 0-2. Now Coach Dick Vermeil really has something to cry about. The good news: Kansas City plays another 0-2 team, one that doesn't figure to get much better.

*Pittsburgh at Miami, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The last time these teams met, the Dolphins shut out the Steelers, 21-0. That was in 1998. Considering the current embarrassing condition of the Miami offense, a shutout may be the Dolphins' only hope.

**San Diego at Denver, Sunday, 1 p.m. -- Charger quarterback Drew Brees, knocked out of last week's game with a concussion, is listed as probable. Is that good news for the Chargers or the Broncos? Denver Coach Mike Shanahan is 16-5 against San Diego, 10-1 at home.

****Green Bay at Indianapolis, Sunday, 1:15 p.m. -- This could be billed as the battle of the triple-figure runners, because both the Packers' Ahman Green and the Colts' Edgerrin James have rushed for more than 100 yards in each of their two games. Could be so billed, that is, if James didn't have a hamstring injury that might force him to watch from the sideline as Dominic Rhodes gets the call and the ball.

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