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Palmer, Favre Meet in Passing

November 06, 2005|Bob Oates | Special to The Times

This has the look of a changing-of-the-guard year for two prominent pro quarterbacks, young Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals and aging Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers:

* If Palmer wins today in Baltimore, the Bengals will be 7-2.

* If Green Bay loses at home to Pittsburgh, the Packers will continue with only one win after nine weeks. That would be embarrassing for proud Green Bay.

But when Palmer's Bengals defeated Favre's Packers last week, 21-14, there were clear indications that a changing of the guard is, indeed, imminent.

It was Palmer who carried his team again, as he has since opening day, whereas the more experienced Favre couldn't.

What's more, Favre began the game as the NFL's leader in touchdown passes, with 13 to Palmer's 12, but emerged in second place when Palmer threw three to Favre's one.

The Problem: Defense

Palmer, in his school days, was USC's first Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback. As a pro, he has only one critical problem: He's on a team that lacks a big-time defense.

And that is a deep irony.

When the Bengals brought in Marvin Lewis as their coach in January 2003, he was a recognized defensive genius. Yet, he has spent his time in Cincinnati building one of the league's smoothest offenses.

Thus, he's two deep in good running backs with Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry and two deep in model receivers with Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Plus Palmer.

Lewis is still unacceptably weak, however, on defense. What the Bengals need most is a big, strong, Super Bowl defense, one powerful enough to control the game against teams like Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.

Packers Disintegrate

Old pro Favre, 36, is good enough to be going out a winner, but his team has disintegrated. Still, he isn't about to give up or give in.

On his final play last week, Favre, beaten but unbowed, still tried to complete his last pass underhanded. Downed and frustrated, he hammered the ground with a fist. Favre's problem isn't that he threw five interceptions, or that he's down to his third-string running back, or that his only reliable receiver now is Donald Driver. He can cope with offensive adversity.

It's the rest of the memorable old Packer machine that's broken. His coach, Mike Sherman, who still handles offensive strategy satisfactorily, doubled too long as general manager.

By the time Green Bay made a change there, Sherman had erred in too many personnel decisions and had let the defense slide too far. Nor is there any guarantee that new General Manager Ted Thompson is the answer.

For a quarterback of Favre's talent and temperament, what has happened to his Packers is an outrage.

The Ram Bench

The St. Louis Rams know more about adversity today than the folks know in Green Bay or at other spots on the NFL map. Facing the defensively potent Jacksonville Jaguars, the Rams were minus their quarterback, Marc Bulger; their two gifted receivers, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, and their coach, Mike Martz, and still won, 24-21.

They won because Martz has skillfully schooled the Rams' pass-offense replacements, including quarterback Jamie Martin, whose long pass to Kevin Curtis for an 83-yard touchdown completion was a candidate for the NFL's most perfectly placed this year.

Of the three interceptions charged to Martin, two were deflected.

The winning coach was Martz-replacement Joe Vitt, who has now won two of three.

The Rams also hurt Jacksonville with their Marshall Faulk-replacement at running back, Steven Jackson of Oregon State, who at 6 feet 2 and 231 pounds is still a raw talent without much knowledge of what to do except run fast.

He struck for 179 yards while averaging 7.2, mostly on end runs, where his size, speed and momentum tended to discourage smaller tacklers.

Not the Real McNabb

The Denver Broncos might also have turned a corner to become a viable candidate for the AFC championship when they survived a strange afternoon in Colorado and turned back the Philadelphia Eagles, 49-21.

Despite the score, the Eagles were probably going to win if quarterback Donovan McNabb had played in full good health.

It is obvious now that McNabb's several internal injuries have combined to drop Philadelphia to 4-3 in the Eastern standings less than a year after the team came within three points of winning the Super Bowl.

This is otherwise the same Philadelphia bunch that pranced through the NFC a year ago.

In fact, two other Eagle stars, receiver Terrell Owens and runner-receiver Brian Westbrook, seem even sharper now. On a pass from McNabb, Owens scored on a 91-yard play. And Westbrook was a continuous Philadelphia factor both rushing and receiving.

But wounded quarterback McNabb is not the man he was. His breastbone injury obviously makes it impossible for him to throw his best passes, rendering him a shadow of the real McNabb.

Generallyimpervious to blitzers in other years because of his in-the-pocket mobility and the quickness with which he can unload, McNabb is often now a sitting duck.

The Broncos won for that reason.

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