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Rams keep showing up skeptics

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 3, 2000


Every time someone asks why I don't do a better job of forecasting games or preseason rankings, I calmly explain that if I were going to be right all the time, I would be living in Las Vegas in an MGM Grand suite instead of working for a newspaper.

The predictions of peril or grand visions of greatness about teams that come from NFL writers, analysts and "experts" are, in all honesty, for entertainment purposes only. That doesn't mean, however, we can't stand up and admit when we're wrong, no matter how painful it may be.

Five weeks into the season, a few preseason positions are becoming myth. None is more obvious than the suggestion the defending St. Louis Rams were some sort of fluke or failed to improve by no adding free agents.

The Rams still may come back to earth, but for now they are playing offense at a level unknown to football. Sure, the five teams they've victimized -- Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta and San Diego -- are a combined 8-16, but to let that diminish what they've done is unfair. Look at what they did to San Diego, the league's 11th-ranked defense, on Sunday.

Kurt Warner threw on the first 14 plays in St. Louis' 57-31. He connected on 10 of his first 12 throws. St. Louis had three players total more than 100 yards. Somebody named Justin Watson rushed for 100 yards.

The Rams' 614 yards marked the most productive day for an offense in 17 years. The team is on pace to shatter all kinds of records for points and yards.

How's this for a prediction: The Rams may revolutionize the way the game is played.

"This is like Sunday afternoon, watching Tiger Woods play golf," Rams cornerback Todd Lyght said. "They're the best. I love it. I sit back and watch the game, look at the Jumbotron, check it out. They're having fun. Now they're scoring 57 points. It's ridiculous."

Quietly, the talk is starting that the Rams may go undefeated. But let's not get carried away. There still are some obstacles on the schedule.

The Rams have the Chiefs at Arrowhead on Oct. 22, an outdoor stadium with grass. Nov. 20, they have a Monday night home game against Washington. Dec. 10, they play at Minnesota, and Dec. 18 it's the showdown at Raymond James.

But the trickiest game may be a Nov. 12 battle at the Meadowlands against the Giants, who also snapped the Broncos' bid for a perfect season in 1998.

HARSH WORDS: ESPN's Merrill Hoge, an analyst on ESPN's NFL's Matchup, said he would take 20 receivers over the Vikings' Randy Moss. This was before Moss roasted the Lions for seven catches, three touchdowns and 168 yards.

Still, Hoge didn't back down from his criticism. He cited Moss for taking plays off, failing to run good routes and not blocking for his teammates.

"Listen, I hope I wasn't the one motivating him out there today," Hoge said. "I hope it was his teammates, his coaches, himself. What I was talking about was what he does when he isn't getting the ball.

"I'll tell you what, the most impressive thing I saw wasn't one of his TD catches, it was the block he made on (Robert) Smith's (touchdown) run. That's what's been missing. I saw some things. Now, he's set a standard. Can he do it every week? If he does, he will dominate this game in every phase."

HOMELESS: Home teams took another beating Sunday. Denver, which hadn't lost to New England at Mile High since 1968, went down to the Patriots. Buffalo, which had lost only three times against the Colts at Rich Stadium since 1980, lost. And Jacksonville, which was 5-0 against Pittsburgh at Alltel Stadium, also was beaten.

Throw in the Bears beating the Packers at Lambeau and the Vikings downing the Lions at the Silverdome, and home teams went 5-8 after going 3-10 last week.

Overall, home teams are 34-37. Of the three divisions, only the AFC East has a composite record above .500 at home at 8-4. Denver (1-2), Dallas (0-2), Green Bay (1-2) and Detroit (1-2) are among the usually strong home teams below average this season. The Lions have lost five of their past six at the Silverdome.

WRITE THEM OFF?: Bucs coach Tony Dungy said last week that media and fans have been too quick to write off teams and put others in the Super Bowl. The Giants come to mind as a team we got too excited about, and maybe the Niners will be better than expected.

But what fun is it to be cautious? For now, it's time to label the Jaguars DOA. First, the 43-14 drubbing against Indianapolis on Sept. 25, then a thorough domination by Pittsburgh on Sunday. The team's offensive and defensive lines are struggling, and those problems are not going to be easy to correct.

This from a team that last season was one victory from the Super Bowl.

"It's not fun right now," coach Tom Coughlin said. "There hasn't been any time in recent history when we felt this way. We've all been hit between the eyes. We're staggering a little bit."

-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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