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Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

One more week before panic is due

September 21, 2008|Sam Farmer

San Diego is a surprise. St. Louis isn't.

Seattle is a head-scratcher. Miami is a no-brainer.

All have yet to win a game this NFL season, and they aren't the only ones. Eleven of the league's 32 teams have yet to taste victory.

So is it time to push the panic button? Absolutely not.

At this point last season, there were 10 winless teams -- among them the New York Giants, eventual Super Bowl champions.

"It's way too early to start doing the math," Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren said this week. "There's too many unpredictable things that happen in this business . . ."

Unpredictable, as in San Diego's traditionally strong defense allowing 437.0 yards per game, more than any team but Detroit and St. Louis.

Unpredictable, as in Jacksonville's David Garrard with three interceptions already, as many as he had in the entire 2007 season.

Unpredictable, as in Cincinnati's Carson Palmer failing to throw a touchdown pass in his first two games.

"It seems like it's the end of the world to a lot of people, but this team still has a lot of hope left," Palmer said.

While conceding "definitely this season can keep going downhill," he said the Bengals are "going to fight and scratch to try to get ourselves back into this."

If history is a guide, things aren't as dire for the winless teams as the standings might suggest.

Since 1990, when the NFL expanded its playoff field to 12, 19 teams have bounced back from an 0-2 start to reach the postseason. And that includes the 2001 New England Patriots, who poured the foundation for a dynasty.

That situation famously included a forced quarterback change, when an unknown named Tom Brady filled in for an injured Drew Bledsoe. Brady, now out for the season with a knee injury, went on to win three Super Bowls and was last season's most valuable player.

Few people expect the quarterback change in Minnesota to yield similar results. But the Vikings have made a switch at the position, hoping that journeyman Gus Frerotte can provide the spark that Tarvaris Jackson couldn't.

"I'm just not seeing right now the aggressiveness from Tarvaris that I saw throughout the off-season, training camp, the two preseason games that he played in," Vikings Coach Brad Childress said.

He added that the move "does not need to be a death knell for Tarvaris Jackson."

That said, another loss this week could be the tipping point for winless teams. Of the 78 teams that have started 0-3 over the last 15 years, all but 10 of them finished with losing seasons, and only the 1998 Buffalo Bills and 1995 Detroit Lions made the playoffs.

Then, there are the teams that already looked doomed. Missouri has two of those.

Although they aren't ready to admit it, the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams are locked in a fierce battle for next year's No. 1 overall draft pick.

After consecutive blowouts by Philadelphia and the Giants, the Rams have a minus-63 point differential. That's by far the worst in the league, 27 more than second-worst Detroit.

But this week, the Chiefs have even bigger problems. Not only are they coming off a home loss to the struggling Oakland Raiders, but star running back Larry Johnson is as disgruntled as he's ever been.

"This season or next could be my last as a Chief," he said Sunday after gaining 22 yards in 12 carries against the Raiders.

Johnson, who last year signed a contract extension with $19 million guaranteed, had just two carries in the second half of the game.

"I should be the one running the ball," he told reporters. "If I'm not tired and I'm not getting the ball, something is happening."

This much hasn't changed: The Chiefs are 0-2 for the third consecutive season under Coach Herm Edwards.

By contrast, Seattle is 0-2 for the first time since 2002. That, as it happens, was the last season the franchise failed to make the playoffs.

But things are looking up for the Seahawks.

After all, the Rams are in town.

--

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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