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Patriots-Dolphins showdown has a little less glamour

Posted: Friday, October 04, 2002

OK, so the Patriots and Dolphins are 3-1 instead of 4-0. Their meeting in Miami on Sunday is still one of the premier attractions as the NFL season enters its second quarter.

Neither team really can complain about its record. There are only two unbeaten teams left in the NFL, and New England lost last week to one of them, San Diego. Miami is coming off a 48-30 loss in Kansas City.

''We can't dwell on it, or we'll get killed by New England, because they're better than the Chiefs,'' middle linebacker Zach Thomas said.

The Dolphins, in fact, may have an advantage: Ricky Williams.

New England looked invincible in beating the Steelers 30-14 and Jets 44-7 in its first two games. Then the Super Bowl champions started having problems stopping the run, allowing Priest Holmes 180 yards in an overtime win over the Chiefs and surrendering 217 to San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson last week.

Williams is as big a threat as either, the best running back Miami has had since Larry Csonka. His 460 yards rank second to Tomlinson in the NFL and he's facing that leaky New England defense.

''Anytime you give up long runs, a significant part of that problem goes to the secondary,'' coach Bill Belichick says. ''You still have a second line of defense.''

Williams doesn't expect easy going for just that reason -- with something broken, the Patriots will go out of their way to mend things.

''When a team gets beat a certain way they are going to do things to fix it and not get beat that way again,'' he says. ''So I am sure they are going to be tougher against the run than usual.''

Miami has won the last four meetings in south Florida.

In other games Sunday, it's the New York Giants at Dallas; Oakland at Buffalo; Tampa Bay at Atlanta; Arizona at Carolina; Washington at Tennessee; Cincinnati at Indianapolis; Pittsburgh at New Orleans; Kansas City at the New York Jets; San Diego at Denver; Philadelphia at Jacksonville; St. Louis at San Francisco; and Baltimore at Cleveland.

Green Bay is at Chicago on Monday night. Off this week are Houston, Seattle, Minnesota and Detroit.

San Diego (4-0) at Denver (3-1)

The Broncos have vowed to improve on special teams after several miscues led to 17 points in a lopsided loss to the Ravens, including the longest play in NFL history, 107 yards on a missed field goal return.

San Diego is the surprise of the league behind the stingiest defense and elusive running back LaDainian Tomlinson. The Chargers are allowing 9.5 points per game. Tomlinson is the league's leading rusher with 506 yards.

Oakland (3-0) at Buffalo (2-2)

In a matchup pitting two of the NFL's most potent offenses, both quarterbacks -- Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe and Oakland's Rich Gannon -- have been hot.

The only team to open a season with three of its first four games decided in overtime, the Bills' flair for late-game dramatics will be put to an extreme test. The Raiders have shown an ability to blow away opponents. Along with averaging more than 37 points a game, Oakland has outscored opponents 76-24 in the first half alone.

St. Louis (0-4) at San Francisco (2-1)

In essence, the 49ers have spent more than nine months preparing for the Rams, who have beaten the Niners six straight times while dominating the NFC West. With St. Louis' start and Kurt Warner's injury, however, San Francisco's task looks much less difficult.

St. Louis' offense has been turned over to career backup Jamie Martin, and coach Mike Martz is cautiously optimistic the change of pace will resuscitate the once-dominant attack. But San Francisco has its own offensive problems, with Jeff Garcia sporting a terrible quarterback rating and All-Pro receiver Terrell Owens barely contributing.

Baltimore (1-2) at Cleveland (2-2)

It's the Browns' first appearance in prime time since 1999, when they made their return to the NFL as an expansion team and were embarrassed 43-0 by Pittsburgh.The Browns think they can put on a better show this time.

The Ravens, awful in their first two games, looked like a different team in their Monday night thrashing of Denver.

Green Bay (3-1) at Chicago (2-2), Monday night

Great, just what the reeling Chicago Bears need -- a visit from old buddy Brett Favre and the Packers. And for their first appearance on Monday night in five years, no less.

Favre is 16-4 against the Bears, and the Packers have won 14 of the last 16 games in football's most celebrated rivalry.

Washington (1-2)

at Tennessee (1-3)

Tennessee hasn't lost four straight since 1997, and the Titans are desperate to stop the skid. They remain committed to running with Eddie George, even though they are averaging only 72 yards per game.

Redskins coach Steve Spurrier was torn between starting Danny Wuerffel or rookie Patrick Ramsey at quarterback. It might not matter who plays against a defense that has given up seven touchdowns passing the past two games.

New York Giants (2-2) at Dallas (2-2)

No other game this weekend features two offenses so good at avoiding the end zone. The Cowboys have scored only four touchdowns, and that's 25 percent better than the Giants.

New York quarterback Kerry Collins leads the NFC in yards passing, but has only one TD and six INTs. His rating is lower than Dallas' Quincy Carter, who has won three straight at home, starting with a nice performance against the Giants last December.

Philadelphia (3-1)

at Jacksonville (2-1)

Before the 1995 draft, the Eagles were about to trade with Green Bay for Mark Brunell, but negotiations bogged down. The Jaguars jumped in, offered third- and fifth-round draft picks and had their franchise quarterback.

Not that the Eagles are complaining now. Fourth-year quarterback Donovan McNabb is widely regarded as the most versatile and dangerous in the league.

He has 1,050 yards passing and is Philadelphia's second-leading rusher with 141 yards, just six behind Duce Staley.

Arizona (2-2) at Carolina (3-1)

The Panthers try to bounce back from their first loss -- they had one win all of last season.

Led by the NFL's top-ranked defense, the Panthers are holding opponents to 80.5 yards rushing and 159.2 yards passing per game.

The Cardinals' Marcel Shipp, who scored two touchdowns while filling in for injured running back Thomas Jones, might miss the game with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee. Jones is also questionable.

Tampa Bay (3-1) at Atlanta (1-2)

Jon Gruden can relate to the problems that dogged Tony Dungy in his six-year Tampa coaching tenure. Michael Pittman, signed after Warrick Dunn left for Atlanta, is averaging 3.5 yards per carry and still looking for his first touchdown.

Of Tampa Bay's 67 first downs, only 17 came on the ground, and they rank 25th with a 77.5 rushing average -- a far cry from the 100-plus averages Gruden's clubs had in Oakland the last four years.

Coach Dan Reeves hopes to have all of his first-string players healthy for the first time in eight weeks. DL Travis Hall, who has 32.5 career sacks, returns from an abdominal and groin pull sustained early in training camp. Michael Vick leads the NFC with a 101.1 quarterback rating.

Kansas City (2-2)

at New York Jets (1-3)

Chiefs have prolific runner (Priest Holmes), receiver (Tony Gonzalez) and quarterback (Trent Green) to help hide a porous defense that ranks last overall.

But Jets can't score and can't stop anybody. They've lost three straight by combined 102-33 and have benched quarterback Vinny Testaverde for untested Chad Pennington.

Pittsburgh (1-2)

at New Orleans (3-1)

While Pittsburgh changes quarterbacks to journeyman Tommy Maddox over Kordell Stewart, the Saints have been flourishing offensively.

They lead the NFL in touchdown percentage inside the red zone (nine TDs in 10 trips) and rookie Donte' Stallworth is the first receiver in 20 years to catch a TD pass in his first four NFL games.

The Steelers have only five touchdowns.

Cincinnati (0-4)

at Indianapolis (2-1)

The Bengals are starting over -- again. This week's quarterback is Jon Kitna, the third starter in three weeks.

But can he turn around possibly the worst team in the NFL? The Bengals have just one offensive touchdown and rank 31st on offense. The defense, No. 9 last year, has dropped to No. 19 overall.

That's likely to help the Colts to a big day, even though they are just 3-6 in the last nine home games.

HEAD:Patriots-Dolphins showdown has a little less glamour

BYLINE1:By The Associated Press

OK, so the Patriots and Dolphins are 3-1 instead of 4-0. Their meeting in Miami on Sunday is still one of the premier attractions as the NFL season enters its second quarter.

Neither team really can complain about its record. There are only two unbeaten teams left in the NFL, and New England lost last week to one of them, San Diego. Miami is coming off a 48-30 loss in Kansas City.

''We can't dwell on it, or we'll get killed by New England, because they're better than the Chiefs,'' middle linebacker Zach Thomas said.

The Dolphins, in fact, may have an advantage: Ricky Williams.

New England looked invincible in beating the Steelers 30-14 and Jets 44-7 in its first two games. Then the Super Bowl champions started having problems stopping the run, allowing Priest Holmes 180 yards in an overtime win over the Chiefs and surrendering 217 to San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson last week.

Williams is as big a threat as either, the best running back Miami has had since Larry Csonka. His 460 yards rank second to Tomlinson in the NFL and he's facing that leaky New England defense.

''Anytime you give up long runs, a significant part of that problem goes to the secondary,'' coach Bill Belichick says. ''You still have a second line of defense.''

Williams doesn't expect easy going for just that reason -- with something broken, the Patriots will go out of their way to mend things.

''When a team gets beat a certain way they are going to do things to fix it and not get beat that way again,'' he says. ''So I am sure they are going to be tougher against the run than usual.''

Miami has won the last four meetings in south Florida.

In other games Sunday, it's the New York Giants at Dallas; Oakland at Buffalo; Tampa Bay at Atlanta; Arizona at Carolina; Washington at Tennessee; Cincinnati at Indianapolis; Pittsburgh at New Orleans; Kansas City at the New York Jets; San Diego at Denver; Philadelphia at Jacksonville; St. Louis at San Francisco; and Baltimore at Cleveland.

Green Bay is at Chicago on Monday night. Off this week are Houston, Seattle, Minnesota and Detroit.

San Diego (4-0) at Denver (3-1)

The Broncos have vowed to improve on special teams after several miscues led to 17 points in a lopsided loss to the Ravens, including the longest play in NFL history, 107 yards on a missed field goal return.

San Diego is the surprise of the league behind the stingiest defense and elusive running back LaDainian Tomlinson. The Chargers are allowing 9.5 points per game. Tomlinson is the league's leading rusher with 506 yards.

Oakland (3-0) at Buffalo (2-2)

In a matchup pitting two of the NFL's most potent offenses, both quarterbacks -- Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe and Oakland's Rich Gannon -- have been hot.

The only team to open a season with three of its first four games decided in overtime, the Bills' flair for late-game dramatics will be put to an extreme test. The Raiders have shown an ability to blow away opponents. Along with averaging more than 37 points a game, Oakland has outscored opponents 76-24 in the first half alone.

St. Louis (0-4) at San Francisco (2-1)

In essence, the 49ers have spent more than nine months preparing for the Rams, who have beaten the Niners six straight times while dominating the NFC West. With St. Louis' start and Kurt Warner's injury, however, San Francisco's task looks much less difficult.

St. Louis' offense has been turned over to career backup Jamie Martin, and coach Mike Martz is cautiously optimistic the change of pace will resuscitate the once-dominant attack. But San Francisco has its own offensive problems, with Jeff Garcia sporting a terrible quarterback rating and All-Pro receiver Terrell Owens barely contributing.

Baltimore (1-2) at Cleveland (2-2)

It's the Browns' first appearance in prime time since 1999, when they made their return to the NFL as an expansion team and were embarrassed 43-0 by Pittsburgh.The Browns think they can put on a better show this time.

The Ravens, awful in their first two games, looked like a different team in their Monday night thrashing of Denver.

Green Bay (3-1) at Chicago (2-2), Monday night

Great, just what the reeling Chicago Bears need -- a visit from old buddy Brett Favre and the Packers. And for their first appearance on Monday night in five years, no less.

Favre is 16-4 against the Bears, and the Packers have won 14 of the last 16 games in football's most celebrated rivalry.

Washington (1-2)

at Tennessee (1-3)

Tennessee hasn't lost four straight since 1997, and the Titans are desperate to stop the skid. They remain committed to running with Eddie George, even though they are averaging only 72 yards per game.

Redskins coach Steve Spurrier was torn between starting Danny Wuerffel or rookie Patrick Ramsey at quarterback. It might not matter who plays against a defense that has given up seven touchdowns passing the past two games.

New York Giants (2-2) at Dallas (2-2)

No other game this weekend features two offenses so good at avoiding the end zone. The Cowboys have scored only four touchdowns, and that's 25 percent better than the Giants.

New York quarterback Kerry Collins leads the NFC in yards passing, but has only one TD and six INTs. His rating is lower than Dallas' Quincy Carter, who has won three straight at home, starting with a nice performance against the Giants last December.

Philadelphia (3-1)

at Jacksonville (2-1)

Before the 1995 draft, the Eagles were about to trade with Green Bay for Mark Brunell, but negotiations bogged down. The Jaguars jumped in, offered third- and fifth-round draft picks and had their franchise quarterback.

Not that the Eagles are complaining now. Fourth-year quarterback Donovan McNabb is widely regarded as the most versatile and dangerous in the league.

He has 1,050 yards passing and is Philadelphia's second-leading rusher with 141 yards, just six behind Duce Staley.

Arizona (2-2) at Carolina (3-1)

The Panthers try to bounce back from their first loss -- they had one win all of last season.

Led by the NFL's top-ranked defense, the Panthers are holding opponents to 80.5 yards rushing and 159.2 yards passing per game.

The Cardinals' Marcel Shipp, who scored two touchdowns while filling in for injured running back Thomas Jones, might miss the game with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee. Jones is also questionable.

Tampa Bay (3-1) at Atlanta (1-2)

Jon Gruden can relate to the problems that dogged Tony Dungy in his six-year Tampa coaching tenure. Michael Pittman, signed after Warrick Dunn left for Atlanta, is averaging 3.5 yards per carry and still looking for his first touchdown.

Of Tampa Bay's 67 first downs, only 17 came on the ground, and they rank 25th with a 77.5 rushing average -- a far cry from the 100-plus averages Gruden's clubs had in Oakland the last four years.

Coach Dan Reeves hopes to have all of his first-string players healthy for the first time in eight weeks. DL Travis Hall, who has 32.5 career sacks, returns from an abdominal and groin pull sustained early in training camp. Michael Vick leads the NFC with a 101.1 quarterback rating.

Kansas City (2-2)

at New York Jets (1-3)

Chiefs have prolific runner (Priest Holmes), receiver (Tony Gonzalez) and quarterback (Trent Green) to help hide a porous defense that ranks last overall.

But Jets can't score and can't stop anybody. They've lost three straight by combined 102-33 and have benched quarterback Vinny Testaverde for untested Chad Pennington.

Pittsburgh (1-2)

at New Orleans (3-1)

While Pittsburgh changes quarterbacks to journeyman Tommy Maddox over Kordell Stewart, the Saints have been flourishing offensively.

They lead the NFL in touchdown percentage inside the red zone (nine TDs in 10 trips) and rookie Donte' Stallworth is the first receiver in 20 years to catch a TD pass in his first four NFL games.

The Steelers have only five touchdowns.

Cincinnati (0-4)

at Indianapolis (2-1)

The Bengals are starting over -- again. This week's quarterback is Jon Kitna, the third starter in three weeks.

But can he turn around possibly the worst team in the NFL? The Bengals have just one offensive touchdown and rank 31st on offense. The defense, No. 9 last year, has dropped to No. 19 overall.

That's likely to help the Colts to a big day, even though they are just 3-6 in the last nine home games.

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