Buccaneers, Jaguars rate as prime-time attractions Week 4 Preview

September 19, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Prime time has become nail-biting time for NFL teams.

The past two weeks, both Sunday night games have gone into overtime and both Monday night games were decided on the final play of regulation.

It may be tough to top those games, but the NFL has another pair of intriguing prime-time matches set for this weekend.

On Sunday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the surprise team in the league, bid for a 4-0 start, playing host to the Miami Dolphins.

Then, the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are 2-0 at home against Pittsburgh, make their first "Monday Night Football" appearance against a visiting Steelers team that is 10-1 under coach Bill Cowher on Monday nights.

Both home teams are favored -- the Bucs by 3 1/2 points, the Jaguars by three -- but since home-field advantage is usually counted as a three-point edge, the games are rated as basically even.

Second-year Bucs coach Tony Dungy, who didn't lose his

composure during the team's 0-5 start last season, is doing his best to keep the club on an even keel.

He reminded his players that "several teams" started out 4-0 last year and didn't make the playoffs. Actually, only one (Kansas City) did that, but coaches are allowed to exaggerate when they're trying to make a point.

The Bucs' fast start doesn't seem to be a fluke. They're No. 2 in the league in rushing behind rookie Warrick Dunn, and No. 3 stopping the rush with a defense led by tackle Warren Sapp.

In Miami, Jimmy Johnson is having the same problem that Don Shula did. He can't find a running game to complement Dan Marino's arm. And Marino's corps of receivers isn't top-notch, either.

Johnson tried to play mind games with Marino by suggesting he might bench him a week ago. Marino then put up good numbers against the Green Bay Packers, but still lost.

Johnson, incidentally, is 7-0 in road or neutral-site game in Florida as coach of the Miami Hurricanes or Dolphins. But when he was a TV commentator, he trashed Tampa Bay quarterback Trent Dilfer, and he spurned the Bucs to take the Dolphins' job. It could be payback time.

In Jacksonville, the question is whether quarterback Mark Brunell, who injured his knee in the first preseason game, will play against the Steelers. Coach Tom Coughlin says it's too early to tell, but Brunell is practicing, which probably means he'll play. Yesterday, he was upgraded from doubtful to questionable.

For Pittsburgh, Kordell Stewart is trying to find himself after a pair of subpar performances, and the team's defense has to get into its familiar groove. The Steelers can't win only on Jerome Bettis' running.

Cowher will practice at night twice to prepare for the Monday night game. He said that's one of the keys to his team's Monday night success.

Both matchups appear to be good ones, but it remains to be seen if they can match the drama of the prime-time games the past two weeks.

Best of the rest

Chiefs at Panthers: The Panthers boosted their record to 7-2 against the AFC last week by beating San Diego and hope to beat another AFC team this week.

Kerry Collins' return at quarterback boosted Carolina, and Kansas City counters with a rushing game that is averaging 5.3 yards a carry. The Chiefs have rushed for more than 100 yards in 10 of their past 11 games and all three this year.

Andre Rison hasn't worn out his welcome yet in Kansas City and has 15 catches to become Elvis Grbac's favorite target.

Worth a look

Ravens at Oilers: This figures to be an entertaining, high-scoring game matching the Oilers' seventh-ranked offense against the Ravens' 29th-ranked defense, and the Ravens' eighth-ranked offense against the Oilers' 22nd-ranked defense.

It also will match Eddie George's legs against Vinny Testaverde's arm. But there won't be much intensity in the stadium because Memphis fans have bought fewer than 14,000 tickets. This is a pivotal division game for both teams. It's unfortunate more fans won't see it.

Vikings at Packers: This game matches two of the league's top passing offenses as Brad Johnson duels Brett Favre. Dorsey Levens, who rushed for his first career 100-yard game last week, is giving the Packers a running threat after the loss of Edgar Bennett. Green Bay has won seven straight division games since losing at Minnesota last year and crushed the Vikings, 38-10, in last year's home finale. The struggling Packers could use another big win to show that injuries haven't slowed them down.

Bengals at Broncos: The Bengals have gone 67 straight games without a 100-yard rusher and are two shy of the record set by the Cleveland Browns from 1988 to 1993. The lack of a running game hampered the Bengals against the Ravens two weeks ago, and they need to run the ball to keep John Elway off the field as he attempts to lead the Broncos to their fourth straight win. Bengals coach Bruce Coslet was irate about his team's showing in Baltimore and worked the club hard during the bye week.

Filling out the schedule

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