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NFL shocker: St. Louis, Pittsburgh open 0-2

Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2002

St. Louis and Pittsburgh, consensus preseason favorites to meet in the Super Bowl, both are 0-2.

While it's not unusual in this era for won-loss records to vary wildly from season to season, it's still surprising that the Rams and Steelers are winless. St. Louis has as many regular-season losses as it did last year, and Pittsburgh is only one loss short of last season's total.

''We're not a good team right now,'' Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said after the 30-17 loss to Oakland that followed a 30-14 defeat at New England.

Passing on almost every play from a spread offense, Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon was 43-of-64 for 403 yards against the Steelers.

Pittsburgh's defense, the best in the NFL last season, has allowed 649 yards passing in two games.

The Rams lost to the Giants 26-21 and it could have been worse. New York moved up and down the field, but couldn't convert short-yardage situations near the goal line and settled for four field goals.

Just as critical, St. Louis couldn't move with the game in Kurt Warner's hands.

First, the Giants stopped the Rams on fourth-and-inches with just under 3 minutes left. Then, when St. Louis got the ball again after the 2-minute warning, Warner was intercepted on the first play by Will Peterson.

The Rams, who lost their opener in Denver 23-16, finished with 352 total yards, well below their league-leading average of 442 yards last season. They're averaging just 18.5 points per game, down from 31.4 last season.

''Regardless of what the record is, teams still play us like it's the Super Bowl,'' St. Louis cornerback Aeneas Williams said. ''We're still being hunted, and right now a couple of arrows are in our back''

The Rams have another tough game next Monday night at Tampa Bay, which has beaten them two straight seasons.

The Steelers are off.

''The league always seems to give us early weeks off,'' Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney complained last Monday, just before the game against the Patriots. ''I wish they'd give us something close to the middle of the season.''

Now they're glad to have the week off, hoping to find a defense capable of shutting down what amounts to run-and-shoot offenses against them.

''Until we show we can stop it, teams are going to keep doing it,'' Cowher said.

ROOKIE REPORT: For the most part, Sunday was a good day for the NFL's highly touted rookies -- Julius Peppers and Jeremy Shockey among them.

Except for David Carr, the No. 1 overall pick last April.

Carr, who showed so much promise in the Houston Texans' upset of Dallas in their first game at home, came down to earth in San Diego, where the Chargers beat the expansion team 24-3.

The Chargers sacked Carr nine times, intercepted him twice and recovered his fumble in the end zone. He finished 6-of-25 for 87 yards. No surprise: Even John Elway had those kind of days as a rookie.

''We wanted to put pressure on him and we wanted him to be uncomfortable,'' Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau said. ''And for the most part, we did that. We're happy about that. It was fun.''

Peppers had three sacks in Carolina's 31-7 rout of Detroit. And Shockey, the much-hyped Giants tight end, caught his first TD pass in the 26-21 win over St. Louis, a 28-yarder, and finished with four catches for 50 yards.

KEEP YOUR HAT ON II: You'd have thought the Cleveland Browns would have learned something after losing their opener to Kansas City when Dwayne Rudd was penalized for throwing his helmet on what could have been the game's final play.

But defensive end Mark Word did it again Sunday, taking off his helmet just before reaching the sideline late in the 20-7 win over Cincinnati. He got a tongue lashing from coach Butch Davis, but wasn't penalized by the officials.

NEW DIRECTIONS: Kerry Collins had his fifth straight 300-yard passing game for the Giants and can tie the record of six shared by Steve Young and Kurt Warner next week against Seattle.

How strange is that? The Giants went without a 300-yard passing game between Nov. 28, 1993, when Phil Simms did it against the Cardinals, until Dec. 5, 1999, when Collins did it against the Jets.

WHITHER?: Marty Mornhin-weg and Doug Brien.

Mornhinweg, the Lions' coach, is now 2-16 in his two-plus seasons after losing 31-7 in Carolina to a team that doubled its 2001 win total in two games. Then, he stormed out of his postgame news conference.

The Lions have been outscored 80-28 this season. But Mornhinweg said Monday that he didn't think he'd be fired.

Brien, the Vikings' kicker, missed two extra points in an overtime loss to Buffalo. He also failed to follow orders to squib a kick after Minnesota had taken a 3-point lead with 26 seconds to go. Buffalo ended up tying the game on Mike Hollis' 54-yard field goal.

''When you miss PATs in this league, you usually don't recover from it. And when you miss two, there's usually no way to recover,'' coach Mike Tice said.

But while the Vikings were negotiating with 43-year-old Gary Anderson, their former kicker, Tice said Monday he is inclined to retain Brien as the kickoff man.

ODDS AND ENDS: Rod Woodson, who spent the first 10 of his 15 NFL seasons with the Steelers, made a triumphant return to Pittsburgh on Sunday night by tying an NFL record with three fumble recoveries. ... Tampa Bay's 25-0 win over Baltimore was deceptive. Jon Gruden's offense gained just 279 yards against a still stingy Baltimore defense, and Tampa's two TDs came on Karl Williams' 56-yard punt return and Derrick Brooks' 97-yard interception return. ... Thomas Jones, the No. 7 overall draft pick in 2000, ran for 173 yards for Arizona in its 24-13 win in Seattle. In 31 previous starts, Jones' previous high was 70.



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