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By JOANNE KORTH
Published October 1, 2006
FIRE IN HOT-LANTA
The Falcons lead the NFL in rushing, but it won't make much difference if they don't straighten out their special teams. Atlanta has had three field goals blocked, one in each game, and last week New Orleans smothered a punt by Michael Koenen and fell on it in the end zone for a touchdown. "There's a fire burning, and we have to put it out," coach Jim Mora said. "Until we do, they're going to continue to attack us. We can't ignore it."
TALE OF TWO HALVES
The Eagles have outscored their first three opponents 55-20 in the first half but have been outscored 47-28 in the second half, including 44-21 the past two games. Philly's offense is clicking on all cylinders. It leads the league in yards per game (436.0), is second in third-down percentage (48.7) and third in points scored (28.7). But the defense has struggled, especially against the pass, especially in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. Of the 44 points given up in the second half the past two games, 37 were in the fourth quarter and overtime. "I believe we're going to have a lot of games where we are going to have to learn how to play with the lead the way the offense is doing things," free safety Brian Dawkins said. "Eventually, we will learn how to finish and finish with excellence."
Cowboys receiver Terry Glenn cut his left thumb before practice Monday. "He was trying to cut some tape off his uniform," coach Bill Parcells said. "He had his hand down in his pants, and he missed. Fortunately, he cut his hand." Indeed, Glenn felt lucky. "It scared me a bit," Glenn said. "It happened when we were getting ready for practice, and I was butting my shorts. It kind of slipped and hit my finger. I ran in and got it stitched up."
THE 'O' IS SILENT
Minnesota's offense hasn't scored in nine quarters, going back to the third quarter of the season-opening win at Washington. The Vikings' two offensive touchdowns for the season are matched by the combined total of the defense and special teams. Oh yeah, kicker Ryan Longwell has as many touchdown passes as quarterback Brad Johnson: one. That came on a fake field goal that helped force overtime against the Panthers in Week 2.
Seattle ran 24 plays from three-receiver sets last week against the Giants, more than double the amount in its first two games combined. With running back Shaun Alexander sidelined by a broken foot, receivers Darrell Jackson, Deion Branch, Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson become the focus of the offense. Jackson, a former UF and Tampa Catholic standout, holds the franchise season record for receptions. Branch is a former Super Bowl MVP who caught 78 passes for the Patriots last season. Engram led the Seahawks in receptions last season. Burleson was a 1,000-yard receiver for the Vikings last season. "If you look at the four wide receivers that we put on the field, we have a mismatch somewhere, sometimes everywhere," QB Matt Hasselbeck said. "That's an exciting thing."
A DIFFERENT TUNE
Monday, an emotional Dennis Green was ready to start rookie quarterback Matt Leinart today against the Falcons. By Tuesday, a cool-headed Green confirmed veteran Kurt Warner would remain the starter for Arizona. But stay tuned. In the past two games, Warner has thrown four interceptions and fumbled five times. One fumble came late in last week's loss to the Rams, when the Cardinals were in position to kick a potential winning field goal. Warner, of course, has been through this sort of thing before, with Marc Bulger while with the Rams and then-rookie Eli Manning while with the Giants. Speaking of staying tuned, so far Brenda Warner has not been heard calling into any radio shows to defend her husband, as she did in St. Louis.
The Jets are a surprising 2-1 under first-year coach Eric Mangini, who quickly gained the respect of players with his attention to detail. Today, the Colts come to town, and the Jets are banking on Mangini to come up with a game plan that confuses quarterback Peyton Manning. After all, Mangini was a member of the Patriots staff that did just that. In nine games against them from 2000-05, Manning was 2-7 with 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. "The Patriots always played the Colts well with the schemes they had," Jets safety Kerry Rhodes said. "I have no idea what they did, but I hope he uses it this week so we can make plays like they did. They made a lot of big plays and had a lot of picks against Peyton."
STAT OF THE WEEK
Bears quarterback Rex Grossman will start a fourth consecutive game today for the first time in his four-year career.
BRAND NEW SAINTS
The Saints are a big story this season for an unexpected reason: They're winning. The 3-0 team has a new coaching staff led by Sean Peyton, 27 new players on the active roster and 10 new starters. Obviously, the renovated Louisiana Superdome was charged with emotion during Monday's victory against the Falcons, but are the Saints for real? "Damn right," veteran receiver Joe Horn said. "The record doesn't show how real we feel, how bad we want it."
No. 1 CRITIC
Texans coach Gary Kubiak criticized defensive end Mario Williams last week, saying he was disappointed in Williams' play during the loss to the Redskins. In three preseason and three regular-season games, the No. 1 overall pick has no sacks. Williams agreed with the criticism. "I deserved to be called out," Williams said. "For me to be the No. 1 pick, I have to accept that responsibility. I have to be held accountable. I think I've been too hesitant. That's my fault. I think I'm reading too much and making the scheme harder than it really is. I need to just cut loose."
Bengals linebacker Caleb Miller woke up Wednesday morning to find himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He is shown tackling Steelers receiver Hines Ward during the Bengals' 28-20 victory. New to the spotlight, Miller seemed to be enjoying himself: "I'm going international right now. I'm bigger than anything. I thought I saw some paparazzi in my rearview mirror. I put on my sunglasses. The fame and fortune thing, it's too much to handle."
BY THE NUMBERS
9-0: Combined record of Cleveland's first three opponents: New Orleans, Cincinnati and Baltimore.
0-2: Record of today's opponent, Oakland.
Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor, who has 931/2 career sacks, is wary of the many rules implemented in recent years to protect quarterbacks. "It's ridiculous," Taylor said. "The guy's wearing the same things we are. He's got a helmet and shoulder pads on. Everybody else can get cut and chopped and rolled up on and poked in the eye and kicked in the face. But if you sneeze on a quarterback, it's a fine and a penalty, and it's not right."
No one was more thrilled with the Redskins' first victory of the season than Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs. Washington was 0-4 in the preseason and lost its first two games before beating Houston. "It's a big relief," Gibbs said. "We went through a long streak here of not having anything to cheer about. It's so depressing for everybody. It's like going to work every day when you're going broke. Nobody wants to do that."
Compiled by Times staff writer Joanne Korth using information from other news organizations.