Season opens with open season on QBs


September 08, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

When the pass rush began in earnest this week, quarterbacks started going down in agony.

Buffalo quarterback Rob Johnson took a frontal shot from San Diego's Norman Hand and reeled away with a concussion and stitches in his chin.

Kansas City's Elvis Grbac was drilled by Oakland's Darrell Russell and suffered a sprained throwing shoulder.

The Ravens' Jim Harbaugh went down on a corner blitz by Pittsburgh's Carnell Lake and was finished for the day with a chipped bone in his right ring finger.

When the carnage was over, eight quarterbacks had been knocked out of opening day. Curiously, the worst of the casualties was a quarterback who had not even been touched. When Billy Joe Hobert of the New Orleans Saints dropped into the pocket Sunday on St. Louis' artificial surface, his right Achilles' tendon snapped and his season was over.

Only one of the eight -- Oakland's Jeff George -- was able to return and finish the game. Several are in doubt for next week. Some, like Tampa Bay's Trent Dilfer (deep thigh bruise) probably will force the issue and try to play. The Bucs, who lost to Minnesota, visit the Green Bay Packers in a game they've looked toward since last January's playoff loss there.

After a relatively injury-free preseason, the war on quarterbacks is raging once again. No one can stop the zone blitz, or so it seems.

There was an avalanche of sacks this week. The Chiefs wore out the Raiders' George with a 10-sack assault -- six by Derrick Thomas. The Seattle Seahawks pounded the hapless Philadelphia Eagles for nine sacks. The New York Giants shredded the Washington Redskins for eight. All those teams won.

The Carolina Panthers pinched the Atlanta Falcons for six sacks -- and lost, 19-14.

Not every quarterback was hurt in the pocket. Dilfer lowered his shoulder and ran when he took a helmet in the thigh. Washington's Gus Frerotte first hurt his left shoulder trying to make a tackle after an interception. Then he hurt it worse on a sack.

Short of outlawing the zone blitz, there appears no way of slowing down the rush to the quarterback. But the ramifications are frightening. Last season, injuries forced 20 starting quarterback changes in the NFL. If the first week is any indication, that number can only go higher.

Special teams woe

The Ravens weren't the only team to endure a special teams fiasco on opening day. Buffalo and Carolina also suffered losses that could be traced directly to special teams breakdowns.

The Bills lost to the Chargers, 16-14, when nine-year veteran kicker Steve Christie missed two field-goal attempts. Christie was wide right on a chip-shot 21-yarder and wide left on a 39-yarder as time expired.

Carolina's special teams -- the best in the league two years ago -- gave up five points on a pair of botched punts against Atlanta. Rookie long snapper Jerry Jensen sent one snap over the head of punter Ken Walter, who recovered it in the end zone for a safety. Later, Walter had a punt blocked and the Falcons capitalized with a field goal.

Atlanta won by that five-point margin, 19-14.

Then there was Green Bay's 38-19 win over Detroit, when a Canadian Football League game broke out. Lions rookie Terry Fair had six kickoff returns for 244 yards, including a 101-yard touchdown. And the Packers' Roell Preston gained 163 yards on four kick returns, 100 coming on one run.

Sublime call

Here's how ridiculous Garrison Hearst's winning, 96-yard touchdown run in overtime was against the New York Jets. With the San Francisco 49ers pinned on their 4-yard line, quarterback Steve Young and coach Steve Mariucci debated what play to call.

Young wanted to pass. Mariucci wanted to play it safe with an inside trap play. This time, safe won big.

"Steve looked at me and said, 'You've got to be kidding. Let's pass the ball,' " Mariucci said later. "We were just trying to run the ball off our goal line, to try to make some room and make a first down."

Four broken tackles and 17 seconds later, Hearst was in the end zone for a 36-30 victory.


The Raiders hit midseason form with 15 penalties, five turnovers and 10 sacks allowed in rookie coach Jon Gruden's debut, losing for the 16th time in 18 games against the Chiefs. The 49ers-Jets shootout produced 1,022 yards, 104 passes, 66 points, 52 first downs and eight touchdowns. The Bears had 11,330 no-shows at Chicago's Soldier Field for a near-miss, 24-23 loss to heavily favored Jacksonville. The Jaguars may not have fixed their defense after all, giving up 132 rushing yards and four scrimmage plays of more than 20 yards to the Bears.

The Saints' victory at St. Louis was the first season-opening road win in their 32-year history. The Vikings lined up at least three receivers on 31 of 53 plays -- including all four of Brad Johnson's touchdown passes -- to get rookie phenom Randy Moss on the field with starters Cris Carter and Jake Reed. Glenn Foley passed for a career-best 415 yards (and three touchdowns) against the 49ers. His previous high was 322 yards.

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