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Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

The Dolphins jump the shark

September 22, 2008|Sam Farmer

The NFL is:

A) A rookie league.

B) A Ronnie league.

C) Both.

The answer is C. Better yet, it's See.

See all four of the league's rookie coaches win Sunday, including a rub-your-eyes stunner with Miami -- yes, Miami! -- winning at New England to end the Patriots' record 21-game regular-season winning streak.

And see the Dolphins' Ronnie Brown run for four touchdowns and throw for a fifth in that 38-13 victory. He wasn't just a running back, he was a Miami pound machine.

It was a bizarre sight, that steady flood of Patriots fans leaving Gillette Stadium at the start of the fourth quarter, unable to stomach any more. Here's hoping someone had the sense to remove the fate-tempting sign that read, "Things could be worse. Imagine Chad as our QB."

Oh, really?

By game's end, Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel happily would have traded statistics with Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington, who completed 17 of 20 passes for 226 yards, with no turnovers and no sacks.

A week after winning the debut start of his career, meanwhile, Cassel took a hard tumble to earth. He connected on 19 of 31 for 131 yards, with a touchdown, an interception and a fumble. He presided over an offense that converted only four of 15 third downs, and watched from the sideline as New England's defense was fooled time and again by direct snaps to Brown. The Dolphins, who hadn't run a single direct snap in their first two games, did it six times against the Patriots, scoring four touchdowns.

While Tony Sparano was thoroughly out-coaching Bill Belichick in Foxborough, his fellow rookie coaches were cleaning up in Atlanta, Washington and Baltimore.

As for the league's youngest coach? Lane Kiffin and his Oakland Raiders came oh-so-close to an upset victory at Buffalo, losing by a point on a 38-yard field goal as the clock expired. Had Kiffin's team won, it would have deprived Al Davis of any reason to fire his young coach. If he were to show Kiffin the door now, Davis would just look typically impulsive, rather than utterly around the bend. It was strange, though, watching Kiffin, in the final 30 seconds, allowing the clock to wind down instead of calling a desperation timeout.

One wonders if Davis spoke to the coach on the flight home Sunday, or if he's waiting to have The Talk with him this week. Either way, it's clear that Kiffin soon will be Memory Lane.

That would be a shame because the Raiders played a very good game, were flagged for only three penalties, and looked nothing like the team that was embarrassed by Denver in its opener on "Monday Night Football."

Other teams, well, they look pretty much the same. Check out the winless St. Louis Rams, who in three games have been outscored by 87 points. Or the winless Kansas City Chiefs, who became the first team since 1960 to begin the season with three different starting quarterbacks in three consecutive weeks.

For those keeping score at home, that's Brodie Croyle followed by Damon Huard followed by Tyler Thigpen.

At one point against the Falcons on Sunday, Thigpen was one for 10 for minus-one yard. He didn't complete his first pass for positive yardage until midway through the second quarter, and his next throw was his second interception.

His wasn't the only rough day. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times by Philadelphia and was taken to the locker room late in the fourth quarter because of an injury to his throwing hand. The Steelers haven't won in Philadelphia since 1965, when the Eagles played at Franklin Field.

Cincinnati's Carson Palmer got his first touchdown pass of the season but was sacked six times by the Giants, who are 3-0 for the first time since 2000.

And Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson was sacked . . . before he set foot on the field. The Vikings benched him in favor of Gus Frerotte and won for the first time this season, beating Carolina at the Metrodome. If anyone needed a shoulder X-ray after the game it was the officials, who probably threw out their rotator cuffs tossing flags. There were 21 penalties in the game, including six false starts by the Panthers, who obviously couldn't handle the noise. They longed for silence.

Bet they wish they were playing in New England.

--

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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