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Sam Farmer / ON THE NFL

Romo or no, 'Boys will be 'Boys ... or not

October 14, 2008|Sam Farmer

Consider this a quiz: Name the top two teams in the NFL.

There are the undefeated Tennessee Titans, and . . . and . . .

It gets a little tricky after that, with teams fluctuating from week to week with all the stability and predictability of the stock market.

The latest collapse: The one-win Cleveland Browns stunned the defending Super Bowl champions Monday night, handing the New York Giants their first loss since December.

So through the first six weeks of the season, the NFL is still the great wide open. Some thoughts and observations heading into Week 7:

Hurt hand vs. old hand

At first blush, it looks like a devastating blow to the Dallas Cowboys that they're losing quarterback Tony Romo for at least a month because of a broken pinkie on his throwing hand. They're giving the starting job to 40-year-old Brad Johnson, who hasn't started a game since 2006, so that has to be unnerving for them.

But the Cowboys actually might be OK. Sometimes, older quarterbacks thrive when surrounded by a talented supporting cast. Consider what Jeff Garcia did with Philadelphia two years ago, or what Kerry Collins is doing in Tennessee now.

Johnson is a plodder, but a smart one. Don't immediately assume Big D stands for doomed.

Trading places

Today is the NFL trade deadline, and there probably won't be a flurry of activity. The Cowboys could be wheeling and dealing, though, because they'll need another quarterback whether or not Johnson pans out, plus a punter to replace Mat McBriar, who, according to the Dallas Morning News, suffered a broken foot when his punt was blocked in overtime and is expected to miss six to eight weeks.

Other players who could be on the trading block are Oakland running backs Justin Fargas and Michael Bush -- more expendable with the emergence of rookie Darren McFadden -- and the biggie, Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez.

Davis doctrine

Explaining why he fired Lane Kiffin, Raiders owner Al Davis talked about how the coach didn't believe in JaMarcus Russell and didn't let the young quarterback show what he could do with his arm.

So, how are Al's new-and-improved Raiders working out?

Well, Russell had by far his worst game of the season Sunday, completing 37.1% of his passes for 159 yards, with two sacks, an interception and a fumble in a 34-3 loss at New Orleans.

And the Saints weren't even at full strength on defense -- their pass defense isn't great even when everyone's healthy -- and they dropped at least two would-have-been interceptions.

Maybe trying to establish the run wasn't such bad strategy after all.

Catching on

The Denver Broncos won their first three games, scoring 41, 39 and 34 points. Since, they've lost two of three, scoring 19, 16 and 17 points. So what gives?

Part of it is that Mike Shanahan isn't calling the plays anymore. He handed off that duty this season to 32-year-old quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, son of longtime NFL assistant coach Jim Bates.

When a team makes a shift like that, switching to a new play-caller after years with another one, there's often an element of surprise for the first three or four games. It just might be that defenses are starting to get a better feel for Bates' aggressive, down-the-field style.

Missing person

Clearly, LaDainian Tomlinson's toe injury is a lingering problem. He says it's bothering him constantly. He's averaging 3.7 yards a carry, the lowest since his rookie season, and has only one 100-yard rushing game this season.

But make no mistake, a diminished Tomlinson is still better than most of the running backs in the league. It's just that he's not close to being the same threat that he was two years ago, when he rushed for 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Wild ride

Does any franchise embody the up-and-down nature of the 2008 NFL better than the Washington Redskins?

Let's see, they look lost in their opener against the New York Giants -- the Redskins are in for a long season.

Then they beat New Orleans and Arizona in Washington -- well, maybe they're better than we thought.

Then they beat Dallas and Philadelphia on the road -- they're one of the best teams in the league!

Then they lose at home to the winless Rams -- stop the ride, I think I'm going to be sick.

Lost signal

NFL owners are in Tampa, Fla., today and are expected to wrap up their annual fall meeting, a brief get-together where Commissioner Roger Goodell gives a state-of-the-league address and various hot topics are discussed.

This year's agenda includes talks on player safety, an update on the search for a new union boss, and the potential for more games in the regular season.

Kicking off the agenda Monday was a meeting of the broadcast committee, consisting of Denver's Pat Bowlen, Dallas' Jerry Jones, Washington's Dan Snyder, Carolina's Mark Richardson and New England's Robert Kraft.

What do all those owners have in common?

Their teams lost Sunday.

Quiet meeting.

--

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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