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Parity begins to show at home

ROGER MILLS
Published November 16, 2003

Remember when it was automatic? When teams played at home, they won most of the time.

Not anymore.

Free agency, injuries, sophisticated coaching and extensive offseason programs have brought parity across the league, and home wins no longer are a sure thing.

Consider today's game between the Packers and Bucs. Both were division winners last season, and both have lost more home games than expected.

Last season, the Bucs and Packers were a combined 14-2 at home. Thus far, they are 3-6.

"It really does (surprise me)," quarterback Brett Favre said of his team's 2-3 mark at Lambeau Field, where the Packers were 8-0 in the regular season last season. "Since I've been here, we have been very good at home. I take pride in it, our fans take pride in it and that has been our 12th man playing at home. It just hasn't been good to us this year. We have no one to blame but ourselves."

It's not just the Bucs and Packers. Across the league, homefield advantage is a vanishing concept for everyone but the elite teams.

Through the first 10 weeks, home teams are 85-59, and that includes a 22-0 mark by the Patriots (4-0), Chiefs (5-0) and Seahawks (5-0), who lead their divisions, and the Titans (4-0) and Rams (4-0), who are in second place.

Home teams are 2-8 on Monday Night Football, a .200 winning percentage, easily threatening the league low of .385 set in 1972.

Bucs coach Jon Gruden said the reason is simple: It's hard to win regardless of where you play.

"There's such a fine line between winning and losing," Gruden said. "You count on homefield being an advantage, and it should be an advantage. You're playing in front of your home crowd, it should be a winning edge. But over the last two or three years, the win-loss records at home have been on a steady decline. Anything goes in the NFL."

THE KEVIN JOHNSON SAGA: In the NFL it's called a release. In the real world it's called getting fired. That's what the Browns did to Kevin Johnson and the fallout still is spewing.

The Browns claimed they released Johnson for failing to be a team leader, reacting poorly to a recent benching, being unwilling to block and generally being a pain in the butt.

How bad are the feelings? Team president and CEO Carmen Policy hammered the veteran receiver for tanking after receiving a contract extension in August 2002, which included a $3.5-million signing bonus.

"Perhaps when the contract was achieved, the reasons for being so dedicated to improving and following the coaching may no longer have existed," Policy said. "That's conjecture on my part."

What isn't conjecture is that Johnson overstayed his welcome in the eyes of some of the Browns. Quarterback Kelly Holcomb, accused by Johnson of playing a role in his release, offered a parting shot.

"I think it's safe to say there's more to being a receiver than just catching balls," Holcomb told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Coaches ask certain things of people and you can't just be good in certain phases of the game. You have to be good in all phases."

MONDAY NIGHT FLAP: At 3-6, the Steelers would appear to have a few other things to worry about than the scheduling of Monday night's game in San Francisco followed by the game Nov. 23 in Cleveland.

"I don't see how there's any justification for that," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said during his weekly news conference. "But that's the hand we're dealt."

Steelers chairman Dan Rooney complained to the league that his team is the only one that travels for a Monday night game and travels the following Sunday. Aside from the Steelers this season, 13 traveling teams follow with a game at home and two others have a bye.

"I talked to the league about it," Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "and (it) said that's why (it) put us in Cleveland, because it's close. We're not making a big thing about it."

Added Cowher: "I think Mr. Rooney's too nice to them. I told Mr. Rooney that, too."

JAURON WATCH: Anything can happen in the last seven games, but Bears coach Dick Jauron looks like he soon will be unemployed.

After an embarrassing 12-10 loss to the Lions, some of the Bears didn't help their coach's cause.

"I thought we were flat the whole game," running back Anthony Thomas told the Chicago Tribune. "I don't think there's as much intensity as we need."

Added receiver Marty Booker: "We didn't have that energy and that spark. There was no real emotion. We were just out there, and that's tough."

Added defensive end Phillip Daniels: "I just feel sorry for Coach Jauron."

SHARPENED EDGE: In what has become a recurring theme in the NFL, Colts running back Edgerrin James isn't happy about getting just 15 carries - one in the fourth quarter - (for 44 yards) against the Jaguars last weekend.

"Maybe I'm not good enough," James told the Indianapolis Star. "I don't know. You've got to go up front and ask them. They've got all the answers. You want to play. But I made sure this year when I came in I'm not going to start no controversy. All I can do is when they call me, I go out there. When they don't, I just chill."

Typically, Colts coach Tony Dungy had a diplomatic response: "We want to get our good players the ball. We wish we had 200 plays. It doesn't work out that way."

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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