NFC notebook

October 31, 1999|By Vito Stellino

East

LeShon Johnson, who won a battle against non-Hodgkin's lymphoma last year, is ready to take on an easier opponent -- NFL defenses. The New York Giants are keeping him as their starting running back even though he averaged 2 yards a carry in 18 tries against New Orleans last week in his first start. Sean Bennett is likely to return from a knee injury this week, but the Giants are going to stick with Johnson against the Eagles. Things are a bit tense in the Eagles' front office. General manager Tom Modrak and owner Jeff Lurie had a clear-the-air session recently. "It was a normal, state of the union meeting. Voices were raised. I might have pounded my fist on the desk. We shook hands when I left," Modrak said. Lurie was apparently upset the Eagles aren't getting more out of the bottom of their roster. Modrak has an out in his five-year contract at the end of this season, when he'll have three years left at $500,000 a year. New Redskins owner Daniel Snyder may have undermined the authority of coach Norv Turner with his long tirade in the locker room after last week's loss in Dallas. Turner may have lost the respect of the players by not telling Snyder it wasn't the time or place for such a session. At this point in the season, there's not many changes Turner can make. The Redskins signed Mark McMillian, a deal they had reached the previous Friday, and James Francis and released Toby Wright and put Fred Strickland on injured reserve, but those moves aren't likely to make a major difference. The Cardinals lead the league with 20 turnovers. Dallas has lost three of its top five receivers because of injuries -- Michael Irvin, James McKnight and Wane McGarity.

Central

Former Maryland coach Bobby Ross has overcome the loss of Barry Sanders and a rash of injuries to lead the Lions to a 4-2 record. Unlike last year, when he drove a wedge between himself and the players after becoming upset at their poor play, he has established better lines of communication. Tackle Ray Roberts said, "For the first time since I've been here, everybody pulled together." The Bears, who play in Washington today, have the toughest schedule in the league the rest of the way. Their final nine foes have a 36-19 record, a .655 winning percentage. Desmond Howard was benched last week in San Diego as the Packers' primary kick returner. His longest return in the first five games was 22 yards. Every team in the league had a longer return. He was replaced by rookies De'Mond Parker and Basil Mitchell. Parker had a 36-yard return and Mitchell a 29-yarder. Howard was a Super Bowl MVP three years ago, but appears to have lost a step, and the Packers aren't getting a good return on the $290,000 signing bonus they gave him. In Jeff George's six quarters as the Vikings' quarterback, the offense has 63 points with touchdowns on eight of 18 possession and two field goals Tampa Bay's Martin Gramatica connected on his first 10 field-goal attempts, one shy of the NFL record, before missing attempts of 43 and 39 yards last week.

West

New Orleans coach Mike Ditka rejected the suggestion by Pro Bowl left tackle Willie Roaf that the team might as well trade him. "He's not going to be traded. Willie Roaf will finish his career with the New Orleans Saints. I think it's frustration. Everybody's frustrated," Ditka said. Roaf got the message and backed off the statements. The 1-5 Saints figure to beat the winless expansion Browns today, but former Ravens guard Wally Williams said, "If we lose to the Browns, we're going to be the butt of the league." The Rams' average margin of victory of 25.7 points is the most by an NFL team after six games since 1941, when the Chicago Bears beat their first six foes by an average of 25.8 points a game. The 1-6 Falcons, who have traded their first-round pick next year to the Ravens, can continue to improve their draft position if they lose to Carolina. The Falcons, without Jamal Anderson, are averaging 69.3 yards a game rushing and 2.8 yards a carry. Carolina coach George Seifert fell below Vince Lombardi on the all-time winning percentage list last week with the loss to Detroit. He's 110-39 (.738). Lombardi was .740 in his career. The San Francisco dynasty has just about ended. The team has given up 40 points in a game three times in a season for the first time since 1963.

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