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NFL

Chargers crash back to earth

By ROGER MILLS
Published November 25, 2003

Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that Doug Flutie magic had those in Charger land euphoric again?

Just like that, the Chargers are back in the NFL cellar, and after being beaten 34-27 by the Bengals, formerly the poster team for ineptitude, San Diego is beginning to realize the depths of its despair.

"It's obviously bad, who are we lying to?" defensive end Marcellus Wiley told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Every time we go play, we're not going in that positive direction. ... It's bad. Really bad. You can't fathom when you get out of the bed on Sunday morning it would get worse than last week when you went to bed Sunday night. But I'm not smiling."

The problem? The Chargers can score, but they can't stop anyone from scoring. They have given up at least 448 yards in each of their past three games and allowed their opponents to convert 55 percent of third-down attempts.

And they are always behind. The Chargers have given up 188 first-half points, more than five teams have allowed for the season, and 55 the past two games. Entering Monday night's game, the Bucs had given up 161 points in 10 games.

"We have a lot of young guys and everybody is just making mistakes, one after another," cornerback Quentin Jammer said. "It seems like we did regress from last game to this game. It seems like we just took another step back. We couldn't get them off on third down, we couldn't make a play when we had to and even when we were in a position to make a play, the plays didn't go our way. I don't know. Everything that could happen, happened. I think everybody all around probably had the worst game of their lives."

THE GROUNDED EAGLES?: The Eagles may have Donovan McNabb's talent, but they also have a running attack. And it is deep one.

Duce Staley (77 yards on eight carries), Brian Westbrook (52 yards on nine, one touchdown) and Correll Buckhalter (18 on seven, one touchdown), along with McNabb himself (54 on seven), combined for 201 yards against the Saints on Sunday, showing that you don't win six in row with a one-dimensional scheme.

"It's very difficult to play a team like the Eagles," Saints cornerback Ashley Ambrose said. "They have three incredible running backs that can all make big plays. They did an excellent job. They made us miss a lot of tackles."

This just in: A team that can run with such efficiency tends to control field position and the scoring. The Eagles scored on seven of their first 10 possessions, running out the clock on the 11th.

RUNNING AND DUNNING: Now you know why Bucs coach Jon Gruden salivated when he saw film on running back Warrick Dunn. Dunn, who signed with the Falcons in 2002 and never played for Gruden, is making quite an impact for Atlanta.

He is doing it precisely the way Gruden envisioned, some days as a runner, some as a receiver.

After combining for 340 rushing yards against the Giants and Saints, Dunn was hammered by the Titans, the NFL's top-ranked run defense, for 14 yards on 14 carries, with 11 yards coming on one touch.

But the Falcons found a way to get the ball to Dunn in the air, and he responded with nine catches for 129 yards. That included an 86-yard first-quarter touchdown reception in which most of the yards came after the catch.

"It really wasn't even to Warrick," Falcons quarterback Doug Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We tried to change the protection, and even though I changed it we were still hot (under blitz pressure). As I caught (the snap) I told him to get out, and he just kind of slipped by me."

The news wasn't all good for Dunn. He sprained his left foot in the fourth quarter and was carried off. X-rays were negative.

COWBOY STEPS: In case you missed it, the Cowboys are 8-3 and tied for the top spot in the NFC with the Panthers, Eagles and Rams.

Just as important, the Cowboys cannot finish with a losing record, marking the first time since going 8-8 in 1999.

"You are not going to be able to call them losers anymore," coach Bill Parcells told reporters. "They are something else now. I am very proud of them."

Not surprising, the Cowboys are doing it with defense first. They held the Panthers to 75 yards on the ground, stuffing Stephen Davis for 59 yards on 26 carries. They were equally cruel to quarterback Jake Delhomme, who was 9-of-24 for 175 yards with a touchdown and a crucial interception.

"(It's) by far the best win I've had in Dallas," Parcells said.

HE SAID IT: "When your deep snapper is catching touchdown passes, you just know you are going to win. It was a great feeling on the sideline and in the locker room. We have a hunger. We have a chance to do what we want."

- Cowboys starting tight end Dan Campbell on the touchdown catch by long-snapper Jeff Robinson.

HE HAS THAT RIGHT: Generally, the rule is kickers don't talk trash. But when you're the Bears' Paul Edinger, and your season is going nowhere, then a big win in Denver might give you a free pass.

At least for one week.

"We laid it to them," Edinger told the Denver Post. "As a team, we killed them. Kicking their (expletive) the whole game as we did, seriously, that was great."

Edinger kicked field goals of 33, 23, 54 and 47 yards to help the Bears to the biggest upset of the weekend.

CORDIAL KORDELL: No one's going to ordain him the savior, much less the new starter, but at least Bears backup quarterback Kordell Stewart was classy about his benching and classier after coming off the bench for an injured Chris Chandler to help lead the Bears to the 19-10 win.

"It's all about being a professional at this level and not pouting, whining or moaning," Stewart told the Chicago Tribune. "If Chris is ready next week, then fine. But if not, I'll be ready."

EASY DOES IT: That the Colts are 9-2 and on top of the AFC South is a statistical fact. That they are considered one of the game's elite franchises and Super Bowl contenders is a matter of public opinion.

Running back Edgerrin James said it's "nice" to be thought of as among the top three teams in the league but added it would mean "nothing" if the Colts don't go deep into the playoffs.

There are challenges ahead. The Colts host the Patriots (9-2) Sunday and are at Tennessee (9-2) on Dec.7.

"It sets up for a nice stretch run," Colts coach Tony Dungy told the Indianapolis Star. "We're 9-2 and tied for first place. It's going to be fun from here on out."

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

[Last modified November 25, 2003, 02:06:38]


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