Step two of a killer opening schedule for Colts

Posted: Friday, September 17, 2004

They're lucky Peyton Manning plays for their side.

After losing by three points in Foxboro to New England in a reprise of last season's AFC championship game the Colts, go to Nashville on Sunday. Last year, Indianapolis beat the Titans twice, the reason they won the AFC South and got a first-round bye in the playoffs after both teams finished 12-4.

If last week's game was big, this one is bigger for the Colts. The Titans are 1-0, so a loss would leave Indy two games behind after two games.

''These games count like 1 1/2 games,'' the Colts' Montae Reagor says. Adds Tennessee's Kevin Carter: ''It's odd to have a game of this importance so early in the season.''

The Titans cruised last week against the Dolphins. McNair needed to pass just 14 times and Tennessee rolled up 182 yards on the ground, even with Chris Brown out with an ankle injury after running for 100 yards in the first half. Brown says he'll be ready Sunday.

The most encouraging sign for the Colts is that they were much more competitive in Foxboro last week than last January.

But Edgerrin James fumbled twice inside the Patriots' 20, Manning threw an interception inside the 10 on the Colts' first possession, and a missed blocking assignment led to a sack on the final drive. That forced Mike Vanderjagt to kick from 48 yards on his potential game-tying field goal, and he missed for the first time in two years.

''There was a lot of hustle, a lot of effort, a lot of energy, a lot of want-to,'' coach Tony Dungy says. ''But that can be wasted if you don't execute the little things.''

Carolina (0-1) at Kansas City (0-1)

Two losers who were a combined 27-10 last season. And Carolina lost Steve Smith, its top wide receiver, with a broken leg in the loss to Green Bay. That might be an omen the Panthers had almost no serious injuries in their Super Bowl season.

Both teams had defensive problems, but Carolina's were less expected the Packers ran for 152 yards against what is supposed to be one of the NFL's best front sevens. The Chiefs, who added no major new players to a defense that was bad last season, allowed Denver 16 plays of 10 or more yards.

''I would love to go out and take my salary cap and sign every multimillionaire we could sign,'' coach Dick Vermeil says. ''But we can't do that.

Minnesota (1-0) at Philadelphia (1-0) (Monday night)

Two of the better teams in the NFC, although both are probably overhyped.

The Eagles are woefully thin at running back and on the offensive line after first-round draft pick Shawn Andrews was lost for the season with a broken right leg. Minnesota always starts fast but often finishes poorly a 6-0 start but a 2-7 finish and no playoffs in 2003.

Still, this game should be fun with Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens on one side and Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss on the other.

Denver (1-0) at Jacksonville (1-0)

A test for the Jaguars after their last-second victory in Buffalo. They fancy themselves as playoff contenders, although they know the win was a bit ugly.

The Broncos weren't ugly against the Chiefs, although Jake Plummer was on a couple of occasions, such as his left handed pass from near his own goal line that was intercepted and led to a Kansas City touchdown. Champ Bailey proved to be a huge addition on defense and Quentin Griffin's 156 yards demonstrated why they could afford to part with Clinton Portis.

St. Louis (1-0) at Atlanta (1-0)

St. Louis' difficult home win over Arizona may have been a sign the Rams are fading a bit. One reason: Despite his career won-loss record (19-4), Marc Bulger at his best is not the Kurt Warner of 1999-2001.

Atlanta still has questions about its defense, which allowed a mediocre 49ers offense to score twice in the final seven minutes in Jim Mora's return to San Francisco as a head coach.

Washington (1-0) at New York Giants (0-1)

The Giants should have expected the beating they took in Philadelphia, but it's important for them to win against a team closer to them in talent. If they don't, Tom Coughlin could lose his players because of fines for showing up ''only'' two minutes early for meetings.

The Redskins face a better offense than Tampa threw at them, although Clinton Portis, who ran for 148 yards last week, will run for 148 or more again if New York doesn't tackle better than it did against the Eagles.

Pittsburgh (1-0) at Baltimore (0-1)

The Ravens' loss in Cleveland was probably the biggest shock of the first week. They desperately need Jonathan Ogden back at left tackle to protect Kyle Boller, who was overwhelmed by the Browns. The defense, Baltimore's backbone, has to play better, too.

A win would be big for the Steelers because it would give them road victory over the AFC North favorites and a 2-0 start following a 6-10 season.

New England (1-0) at Arizona (0-1)

Bill Belichick said all the right things this week about the ''strength'' of the Cardinals to keep his team from a letdown. He also took the Patriots to Arizona on Thursday to keep them from getting bored with a 10-day layoff between games.

Arizona does figure to be up for this game, fired by the Tillman ceremonies and buoyed perhaps by a ''respectable'' 17-10 loss in St. Louis in which the old Emmitt Smith resurfaced. All four Cardinals wins last season were at home, where they were blown out only once.

Seattle (1-0) at Tampa Bay (0-1)

The Seahawks are relieved because Shaun Alexander's knee injury turned out to be only a bruise. He may not play this week, but he won't be out long.

The Bucs gained only 30 yards on the ground and 169 overall in Washington last week with an offense on which nine of the 11 starters are 30 or older. If that continues, Chris Simms might replace Brad Johnson soon despite Jon Gruden's aversion to young QBs.

Miami (0-1) at Cincinnati (0-1)

A.J. Feeley will start at quarterback for Miami after taking over after halftime for Jay Fiedler in the 17-7 loss last week to Tennessee.

New York Jets (1-0) at San Diego (1-0)

The Chargers' win in Houston was another first week surprise. Drew Brees played well at QB after being all but written off when Philip Rivers was obtained on draft day.

Chicago (0-1) at Green Bay (1-0)

The Bears and QB Rex Grossman are a work in progress under Lovie Smith. If Chicago fans can live with early losses, they may end up with wins.

Houston (0-1) at Detroit (1-0)

The Lions have to be concerned about losing Charles Rogers for the second straight season, but rookie Roy Williams had four catches for 69 yards in the win in Chicago that broke a 24-game road losing streak.

Cleveland (1-0) at Dallas (0-1)

Bill Parcells called Minnesota ''one of the three best teams in the NFC'' before the Cowboys lost 35-17 to the Vikings last week. He's unlikely to call the Browns one of the AFC's best teams even after their upset of the Ravens.

San Francisco (0-1) at New Orleans (0-1)

Ken Dorsey gets his first NFL start for the 49ers in place of Tim Rattay, who separated his right shoulder last week. Dorsey took over when Rattay was hurt but was injured himself and Rattay returned to lead San Francisco to two touchdowns that nearly tied the Falcons.

Buffalo (0-1) at Oakland (0-1)

The Bills looked alarmingly like last season's 6-10 team in the last-minute loss to Jacksonville, stumbling on offense and making clutch mistakes on defense.



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