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L.A. Has New Way to Keep Score

September 11, 2006|MIKE PENNER

City of Los Angeles, it's going to be different this NFL season, as opposed to the last 11, where we passed the time wishing ill will on the Rams and the Raiders -- such as Georgia Frontiere getting the head coach she deserves (Mike Martz! Bing-o!) and Al Davis going through quarterbacks like so many weird track suits (Kerry Collins? Aaron Brooks? Jeff George, come on down!).

We got pretty good at that but expended too much negative energy. No wonder the NFL continues to hem and haw about a return to Los Angeles. The league can feel the bad vibes from here to New York.

But, finally, Los Angeles has a reason to root for something in the NFL again.

Reggie Bush might wear the black and gold of the New Orleans Saints, but he continues to carry the ball for L.A. against the dark force of the Houston Texans, our version of Darth Vader, only without any light saber.

Which city poached the expansion franchise that should have been ours in 1999? Houston.

Which franchise snubbed the pride of Los Angeles, USC legend and 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Bush, when it owned the No. 1 selection in the draft? Houston.

The people of Houston are on our side with that last one, but they are the ones who have to live the next decade with the consequences of that brick-headed decision, not us.

And so, on Week 1 of the 2006 NFL season, Houston caught a glimpse of its bleak future when Bush debuted Sunday with 141 all-purpose yards in New Orleans' 19-14 victory at Cleveland and the Texans rushed for a team total of 70 yards in a 24-10 loss at home to Philadelphia.

To put it another way:

* Bush rushed 14 times for 61 yards, caught eight passes for 58 yards and returned three punts for 22 yards as the Saints won on the road for only the second time since last season's opener.

* Mario Williams, the player Houston drafted first instead of Bush, had two tackles and one assist and a nice view of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb returning to the starting lineup, and pre-2005 form, by passing for 314 yards and three touchdowns.

(Side note: Wali Lundy, the poor fellow assigned to fill the spot that should have gone to Bush, netted 32 yards in 11 carries. That's because Domanick Davis, the Texans' No. 1 Excuse for Not Drafting Reggie, began the season on injured reserve, L.A. karma kicking in again.)

This means Los Angeles is 1-0 in 2006. Congratulations, everybody!

It has been a long time since we have been undefeated this late in an NFL season.

All roads don't yet run to New Orleans, but a few of them took old Saints to new heights in Week 1.

Donte Stallworth, traded by the Saints to Philadelphia, caught six passes for 141 yards and a touchdown in his new uniform, doing everything for the Eagles that Terrell Owens used to do, except trash the quarterback, spar with the head coach, preen for the cameras, antagonize the home city, annoy the league office, get suspended, all the little things.

Meanwhile, Stallworth's old coach with the Saints, Jim Haslett, moved to St. Louis to coordinate the Rams' defense. In his debut there, Haslett developed a game plan that clamped down on the Denver Broncos, limiting last season's No. 5-ranked offense to a touchdown and field goal in St. Louis' 18-10 upset victory.

Sign No. 1 that the Rams have entered the post-Martz era: They won a game with defense.

Sign No. 2 that the Rams have entered the post-Martz era: They won a game with six field goals by Jeff Wilkins and nothing else, Wilkins' six-pack breaking Bob Waterfield's 55-year-old franchise record of five field goals in a single game.

Sign No. 1 that the Broncos are rapidly approaching the post-Jake Plummer era: Plummer had three passes intercepted, passed for 138 yards and told reporters afterward that he could already feel the Mile High City swinging its support to first-round draft choice Jay Cutler. Or Steve Tensi, were he available.

Significantly, the Rams won at home on a day when that was the exception. Home-field advantage was nothing more than a myth, with Green Bay and Tampa Bay getting shut out at home by virtual carbon-copy scores -- Chicago over Green Bay, 26-0; Baltimore over Tampa Bay, 27-0 -- and Carolina, consensus favorite to win the NFC championship, losing at Bank of America Stadium to Atlanta, 20-6.

Kansas City also lost at home, 23-10, to Cincinnati, when Larry Johnson failed to break 100 rushing yards for the first time in 10 games and Trent Green failed to get off the turf via his own power after absorbing a brutal hit from Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers.

From tackle to stretcher, it took 11 minutes for Green to be moved from the field, with everyone in Arrowhead Stadium worrying about something beside the score. It look scary for a while, but in the hospital, Green regained his senses and movement in his arms and legs. Doctors diagnosed the injury as a concussion, the best news the Chiefs received this day.

Meanwhile, two recycled quarterbacks lost their first starts for Detroit and Tennessee, Jon Kitna producing just two field goals for the Lions in a 9-6 loss to Seattle and Kerry Collins having two interceptions in the Titans' 23-16 defeat to the New York Jets.

Kitna and Collins were booed by the home fans less than four quarters into their new assignments. That's the trouble with recycled quarterbacks. Even if they manage to elude the rush, they can never escape their pasts.


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