Rams boast best record in upside-down season

Week 5 In Review


Consider this scene at the Trans World Dome after the St. Louis Rams' 42-20 demolition of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday:

49ers president Bill Walsh interrupted Dick Vermeil's post-game media session by telling the Rams coach, "You're going all the way."

And Vermeil, in protest, saying, "Oh, don't say that."

The Rams in the Super Bowl? The team that went 9-23 and finished last in the NFC West the last two seasons? Just as strange, a concession in Week 5 from the man who built the 49ers' dynasty?

That exchange said everything about the bizarre start to the 1999 season. It's a season in which the two conference champions are both 1-4 and in which injuries have stripped several contenders of their best players.

There are no dominant teams in the league this season, and none appears on the horizon. Look at the Week 5 results:

The previously unbeaten Dallas Cowboys, playing ultra-conservatively, lost to the previously winless Philadelphia Eagles with a fourth-quarter collapse.

The Minnesota Vikings, a consensus pick to win the NFC this season, lost at home to the Chicago Bears, who now have the better record of the two teams.

The Rams, the only unbeaten team left in the NFL, crushed the 49ers, who had won 17 straight in this lopsided series.

Every contender seems to have a fatal flaw. In the NFC, the Washington Redskins can't play defense, the Tampa Bay Bucs can't play offense, and the Green Bay Packers have leaned heavily on quarterback Brett Favre's fourth-quarter wizardry to win three games.

In the AFC, the Miami Dolphins still can't run the ball, the Jacksonville Jaguars suddenly are having trouble throwing it, and the New England Patriots take every game to the last second.

So, why not a St. Louis-Buffalo Bills Super Bowl? It would be a feel-good finale. Quarterbacks Kurt Warner against Doug Flutie. The king of the Arena League against the king of the CFL.

This season, why not?

Vintage Marino

In a week when his decision-making was questioned and his starting job threatened, Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino got in the final word of his on-again, off-again feud with coach Jimmy Johnson.

It was an improvisational play call in the huddle that enabled the Dolphins to complete a 34-31 comeback victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Faced with fourth-and-10 at the 50-yard line and trailing 31-27, Marino told wide receiver Oronde Gadsden to run a deep route if the cornerback on his side blitzed.

Marino guessed right. When Thomas Randolph blitzed from the right side, Marino hit Gadsden for a huge 48-yard gain to the Colts' 2. Two plays later, he found Gadsden again for the game-winner with : 27 left.

"That's not a play the coaches would call," Marino said of the long-gainer. "We kind of did it on our own."

What made it even bigger was that, according to the Miami Herald, Johnson called Marino in for a midweek lecture and said he'd lose his starting job unless his play improved.

Marino responded as he has typically to other Johnson challenges: He completed 25 of 38 passes for 393 yards, two touchdowns and a win. If Marino was going to lose his job, he'd do it on his terms.

Round One goes to A. Smith

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Akili Smith fired the first salvo this week in what is certain to be a long-running rivalry with the Cleveland Browns and their quarterback, Tim Couch. Moments after he served up a 2-yard touchdown pass to beat the Browns, 18-17, Smith did a chest-thumping, in-your-face routine in front of the Cleveland bench.

It was his way of saying the Browns chose the wrong quarterback when they made Couch the first pick last April. It made an impact on Couch.

"It definitely angered me," Couch said. "I wouldn't be any kind of a person, wouldn't have any competitiveness in me, if I didn't. I'll definitely remember that.

"And the way he was taunting our crowd, I'm sure saying they should have picked him that will stick in my mind. I'll never forget that little move there."

Countered Smith: "I hope he remembers it the rest of his career. It was a big win. I really believe in my heart that [the Browns] made a mistake. They're confident with Couch. Hopefully, Couch will have a good career; I know he will, he's a good quarterback.

"But there's no doubt in my mind who the better quarterback is. Period."

By the numbers

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