AFC notebook

September 26, 1999|By Ken Murray

East

The Dolphins aren't afraid of character flaws in players, but Jimmy Johnson is quick to draw the line when a player's performance turns erratic. Last week, he traded RB-KR John Avery, the 29th pick in the 1998 draft, to the Broncos for WR Marcus Nash. Avery fell out of favor a year ago for, among other things, falling asleep in team meetings. He fumbled three kick returns in the preseason, and when he short-armed a third-down pass in the opener against Denver, Johnson had enough. Avery, resisting all of Johnson's psychology tricks, was inactive in Week 2, gone in Week 3. Nash is the fourth former No. 1 pick given a shot by the Dolphins this season, joining RB Tyrone Wheatley (cut), DE Dimitrius Underwood and QB Jim Druckenmiller. With the Broncos, Nash was unable to beat out Willie Green for the third receiver role last year, and was beaten out by Chris Doering this year. The Dolphins signed then cut Green this preseason. Of the 20 coaches who have led teams back from an 0-2 start to the playoffs since the 1970 merger, only the Jets' Bill Parcells has done it more than once. He did it with the Patriots in 1994 and 1996, and the Jets a year ago. Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe has 16 fourth-quarter comebacks two games into his seventh season, the same number John Elway had at the corresponding time in Denver. Four of Bledsoe's past six wins have come in the closing seconds. Jets receivers are having trouble adjusting to QB Rick Mirer's soft tosses after Vinny Testaverde's hard, tight spirals. Ten of the Jets' 15 penalties this season have been called on the offensive line, including five against LT Jumbo Elliott. Bills WR Andre Reed needs three catches to reach 900 for his career and join Jerry Rice and Art Monk.

Central

The Jaguars, who meet the Titans for the division lead today in Jacksonville, haven't been out of first place since 1997. They are tied with the Broncos for the third-best record in the NFL (29-10) since Nov. 24, 1996, when they launched their first playoff run. Only the Packers and 49ers, both 30-9, have been better in that period. The Titans dealt the Jaguars their only home loss a year ago, 16-13. But Jamie Martin started that game at QB for the Jaguars' injured Mark Brunell, and QB Steve McNair passed for 232 yards for Tennessee. McNair, out after back surgery, has been replaced by Neil O'Donnell. The Steelers, who play host to the Seahawks today, are 45-11 at home under coach Bill Cowher. The Titans have scored on 56 consecutive trips inside the red zone, collecting 28 touchdowns and 28 field goals. Tennessee RB Eddie George is averaging just 3.2 yards a carry, a fraction under the team average of 3.3. "The way we approach it," Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said, "Eddie's had two weeks off; now it's time to get on track." The Bengals have three games against teams with winning records in 1998, none until a Week 8 encounter with the Jaguars. That's the second-easiest schedule in the league.

West

Chargers RB Natrone Means rushed for 79 yards against the Bengals, but 12 of his 27 carries went for no gain or negative yards. Playing with both ankle and knee injuries, Means averaged 2.9 yards a carry. Colts RB Edgerrin James can become the first rookie to start his NFL career with three consecutive 100-yard rushing games, but he'll have to do it the hard way -- against the Chargers, with the best rush defense in the league. San Diego hasn't allowed a 100-yard runner since Denver's Terrell Davis did it on Nov. 30, 1997, 20 games ago. That's the longest active streak in the NFL. If San Diego beats the Colts, Mike Riley will be the first Chargers coach to win his first two games. Under defensive coordinator Willie Shaw, the Raiders lead the AFC in sacks with nine, are tied for the AFC lead with New England with 5 interceptions, and have not allowed a rushing TD. But they are allowing 381.5 total yards a game, 27th in the league. The Seahawks' offensive line has already given up 12 sacks.

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