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ON THE NFL

Nerves of steal carry trio to victories at home

October 27, 2008|SAM FARMER | Farmer is a Times staff writer.

If there's an en vogue play this NFL season, it's the direct snap to the running back -- basically a glorified sweep.

The big play Sunday was the swipe.

The Kansas City Chiefs intercepted three Brett Favre passes . . . and the New York Jets came back to steal a four-point victory at the Meadowlands.

Carolina careened toward a home loss to Arizona . . . before the Panthers morphed into the steal curtain, forcing two pivotal turnovers in the second half.

And the upstart Atlanta Falcons saw their last hopes in Philadelphia heisted when, trailing by six in the fourth quarter, they fell victim to a botched call that set up an Eagles touchdown.

The goof came with slightly more than two minutes to play, when officials ruled Atlanta's Adam Jennings muffed a punt. The Eagles recovered. Although TV replays showed that Jennings never touched the ball, the Falcons were out of timeouts so they couldn't challenge. Two plays later, Philadelphia scored the knockout touchdown.

While that bad call helped the Eagles, one of their hated NFC East rivals got some very good calls. Specifically, the Dallas Cowboys were on the receiving end of the outstanding defensive play-calling of Coach Wade Phillips.

In his first game after relieving defensive coordinator Brian Stewart of those duties, Phillips radioed in a masterful plan against Tampa Bay, holding the Buccaneers without a touchdown for the first time since Week 1 of 2007. The Cowboys halted their two-game losing streak.

Add Phillips to the list of head coaches who are better suited to be coordinators, a list that should be named in honor of San Diego's Norv Turner. His Chargers lost Sunday for the third time in four games, falling to New Orleans in London.

The good news for the Saints: they have a high-flying offense. The bad news for the Saints: they could be losing altitude soon.

Three key New Orleans players -- running back Deuce McAllister and defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant -- are reportedly among several NFL players who have tested positive under the league's steroid policy. A player's first violation of that policy automatically results in a four-game suspension.

The substance in question is Bumetanide, which isn't a steroid but a diuretic that can act as a masking agent.

Fox reported Sunday that the latest roundup also snared a pair of Pro Bowl players from the Minnesota Vikings, as defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams also tested positive for the so-called water pills.

Suspensions would likely be devastating to the Vikings and Saints, teams in the thick of the tightly-knotted NFC North and South.

As for north-south runners, it was hard to beat Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook, who returned from a rib injury to rush for a career-best 167 yards and score a pair of touchdowns.

That's nearly five times as many yards as the 35 that Oakland generated in the first half at Baltimore. In a game that pitted brother against brother -- twin defensive coordinators Rex and Rob Ryan of the Ravens and Raiders -- the men in silver and black once again lost on the road. How appropriate that, in games away from home since 2003, the jet-lagged Raiders are 7-37.

It was a bad day all around for California teams, with all three losing.

Mike Singletary, for one, isn't going to stand idly by while that happens. San Francisco's interim coach made it clear he's as no-nonsense as he was as a player. After benching quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan against Seattle, Singletary pulled Vernon Davis when the tight end committed a personal foul then banished him to the locker room.

In his postgame comments, a fuming Singletary said he'd rather put 10 players on the field, rather than play someone who "has not sold out to be a part of this team."

"It's more about them than it is about the team," the coach said. "I cannot play with them. Cannot win with them. Cannot coach with them. Can't do it."

Conversely, the New York Giants are unquestionably a can-do team. They sacked Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger five times, and thoroughly protected Eli Manning against a defense that led the league in sacks. The Giants trailed in the fourth quarter but tied the score when Steelers linebacker James Harrison, doubling as backup long snapper, fired the ball over the head of the punter and out of the end zone for a safety.

Shortly after, New York scored the winning touchdown. So -- unlike in Carolina, Philadelphia and at the Meadowlands -- there was no last-gasp, game-saving twist by the home team.

That figures. In this upside-down NFL season of sweeps and swipes, the Week 8 stealers were from everywhere but Pittsburgh.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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