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September 2003

September 09, 2003

Fearless Rick's Pro Football Report - Week 1
Some Surprises, Dubious Defenses, Mad Martz and More
posted by Rick Gagliano

The biggest surprise of the weekend was not Buffalo's trouncing of the New England Patriots (31-0), or the upset of Miami by the upstart Houston Texans, but the thrilling comeback of the Carolina Panthers, with unknown QB Jake Delhomme leading the Panthers back from a 17-0 deficit to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-23.

Delhomme, who played his college ball at tiny Louisiana-Lafayette, had been a backup in New Orleans for the past five seasons, made the most of his opportunity - taking over at the start of the second half when starter Rodney Peete proved completely ineffective - by tossing three touchdown passes to rally the Panthers to their third straight opening day win.

Connecting on scores to Mushin Muhammad, Steve Smith and lastly, to Ricky Prohl with 16 seconds left in the game, Delhomme finished up 12-20 for 122 yards with 3 TDs and 2 INTs. While Delhomme was the star, the rally would not have happened without the running of Stephen Davis - who carried 22 times for 111 yards - and the dominance of the Carolina defense in the second half, which shut down the Jacksonville running game entirely.

For his effort, Delhomme earned the starting nod this week against the champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who thoroughly dominated the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, 17-0. We hope Jake enjoys his momentary stardom, as he may not be shining so brightly after Sunday's contest.


As for the Bucs, they looked completely healthy, energized and focused in their first start of the new season. While the offense was similar to last season's sputtering squad, the defense actually looked even more dominating than ever, holding Philly to 240 yards of total offense. In the process of demoralizing and drowning the Eagles in a sea of maroon and pewter, the Bucs managed three sacks and one interception against Donovan McNabb and kept the Eagles out of field goal range for most of the game.

One has to wonder just what head coach Andy Reid was thinking throughout the contest, especially when he called a fake field goal from the one yard line early in the game. The fake failed and the Eagles never got close to scoring again. Also, Reid failed to use backs to pick up blitzes repeatedly and never double-teamed Pro Bowl DE Simeon Rice, who harassed McNabb all night.

The most glaring weakness of the Eagles, however, was the absolute lack of any kind of running attack. Of the 121 yards rushing, 47 of them came on one play - an end around by James Thrash - and 55 yards came on 5 scrambles by McNabb. Backs Staley and Westbrook were a combined 9 rushes for a paltry 19 yards. The Eagles failure to address the need for a ground game may well keep them out of the Super Bowl for another year. They have been in the NFC Championship the past two years, losing both - to the Rams in 2001 and the Bucs in 2002.


Whenever a person is awarded the title of genius - as St. Louis Rams' head coach Mike Martz was after the 1999 season - look out below! There's no upside to being on top, obviously, and sometimes, certain people (like Martz) actually start believing what others are saying, living in the limelight and the glow of geniosity.

I am here to tell you that Mike Martz is no genius. Albert Einstein was a genius. Leonardo Da Vinci was a genius. Sigmund Freud was a genius. Note that none of these guys ever coached football. As genuine genii, they knew better, though it should be pointed out that Da Vinci may have been an ancestor of Vince Lombardi, possibly the only true genius in the history of professional football.

What Martz had was the hottest hand in the game (Kurt Warner), a wealth of swift receivers and a perennial Pro Bowl running back in Marshall Faulk. During the glory years - and remember, Martz was offensive coordinator under head coach Dick Vermeil in 1999 - The Rams played the in the NFC West against the likes of Atlanta (before Mike Vick), New Orleans and a rebuilding San Francisco.

In 2000, the Rams missed the playoffs, and Martz chided the defense. In 2001, the Rams got back to the Super Bowl and were outclassed, outplayed and outschemed by New England. Last year, they finished a disappointing 7-9, losing their first five games.

Sunday, the downtrend continued, courtesy of the New York Giants - who beat the Rams in 2001 and 2002 - in a 23-13 pounding that wasn't as close as it looked. Kurt Warner fumbled 6 times in the game and Martz conceded that his QB had suffered a concussion early in the contest. So, if Martz is so smart, why didn't he recognize that his QB was woozy and pull him? And why did Faulk get less than ten carries? And why did Martz not go for a field goal when down by ten with 5 minutes left in the game?

Martz announced on Monday that Marc Bulger would start at QB against the 49ers this week. Another smart move? If Bulger fails to perform and the Rams lose, what then, Mr. Smartypants? Third stringer Kirk Farmer is waiting in the wings.

Martz is no genius and he continues to prove it week after week.


When Kris Brown kicked his fifth field goal of the day to put the Texans up by a point against the Dolphins, the most surprised people were Dolphins head coach Dave Wannstedt and the Miami defense. They weren't supposed to lose this game. The Texas are a second-year expansion team. The Dolphins have Super Bowl aspirations.

The least surprised people were Texans head coach Dom Capers and the Houston defense. The Texans proved last year that their defense was their strength. Now they have David Carr with a year under his belt and a solid offensive line. Carr was sacked an NFL-record 76 times last year. On Sunday, the fishy defense never got to him - not even once. Carr was 17-31, 266 yards with a TD and no interceptions. And while the Texans were playing flawlessly, with no turnovers, the fish flopped the ball over three times, twice on Jay Fiedler INTs.

The Texans may not be world beaters this season, but the wins they do get will not be upsets, flukes or unexpected. These guys will be ready to play every Sunday.


A number of trends may already be developing early in this NFL season. Here are a few of the obvious and maybe a few you may not have noticed.

New England has no offense, no energy and no chance to win the AFC East. The hurting the Bills put on them was no fluke. Buffalo is loaded, thanks to very smart off-season moves, including the bolstering of their defense with the additions of Lawyer Milloy, Sam Adams and Takeo Spikes in the offseason. The Bills are a legitimate contender for the AFC East title.

The Jets need a quarterback. Vinny Testaverde is not going to cut it. They may be 1-6 or 2-5 before Chad Pennington comes back. Losing Laveranues Coles and Chad Morton didn't help either. The Jets just have severe problems in the passing game, which translates into no running game either. And their defense is not that great. Ouch!

Jake Plummer is not a great quarterback. Sure, he led the Broncos to a 30-10 drubbing of the Bengals, but these are the BENGALS! They are still a bad team. Plummer threw for only 115 yards, with 3 INTs and no TDs. He was 12-25 against a spotty defense. Jake will make weak defenses look good.

Speaking of bad quarterbacks, two words - Kordell Stewart. Two more words you'll be hearing often this season - Bears lose.

Kansas City is for real. They have an explosive offense and an improved defense. If they can find a way to beat the Raiders once this season, they may win the NFC West. The Raiders absolutely stuff the run, put pressure on opposing QBs and their secondary is second to none. Their weakness is still on offense, because Jerry Rice can no longer burn you, Tim Brown can burn you only occasionally, and Rich Gannon may not make it through this season without injury.

Tommy Maddox is good. Really good. The Steelers should be able to ride his arm into the playoffs. Their running game is only adequate at this point and their defense is still questionable.

The NFC North is up for grabs. Minnesota is better than most think, Green Bay will win games because of Favre and lose them on defense. Detroit could run the table late and get into the playoffs with a 9-7 or 10-6 record. Right now, the Vikings look like the team to beat.

Improved on defense are the Browns, Colts, Bills, Chargers and Titans. All AFC teams. Going the other way are New Orleans, Miami, the Jets, Green Bay and Dallas. Yes, Dallas. They looked lost against Atlanta, even without Mike Vick. San Diego got it together in the second half against the Chiefs and should improve gradually.

Offenses to watch - Tampa Bay (grinders), Tennessee (more grinders), San Francisco (well, duh!), Buffalo, Washington, Seattle, KC and San Diego. For San Diego, they need to get Tomlinson the ball early and late and let Drew Brees loose in the middle, especially on second down. David Boston, Reche Caldwell and Tim Dwight are as good a trio of receivers as there is in the league, if they play up to their potential.

No D: Arizona, St. Louis, New England (tough for them, they have no O either), Green Bay, Chicago (maybe 0-16 this season?).

Don't be a sucker. Get Fearless Rick's Pro and College Football Picks and more.

Last season's Super Bowl Pick - still a classic.

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