In NFL, it's a new day -- of chaos

Football: With the haves and have-nots switching roles as fast as the quarterback guard is changing, a season of upheaval has unfolded.

Midseason report

November 14, 1999|By SUN STAFF

So this is what the NFL will look like in the new millennium. Quick turnarounds followed by faster collapses. Dying dynasties steeped in salary cap chaos. Coaching carousels punctuated with hostile ownership takeovers.

Parity in all its white-knuckled madness.

If you thought the New York Jets' stay at the top of the AFC East was brief, consider the plight of the Atlanta Falcons.

They finally showed some muscle in the NFC West last year, powering their way to a Super Bowl appearance, only to fall back and get more sand kicked in their faces this season. Atlanta still hasn't had back-to-back winning seasons in 34 years of existence.

Who knows how long the St. Louis Rams' run at the top of the NFC West will last? And just what mirrors are the Detroit Lions using this year, anyway?

It has been a great half-year for Arena League refugee quarterback Kurt Warner, for down-and-out franchises -- well, some, anyway -- and for transplanted teams such as the Indianapolis Colts, the Tennessee Titans and the Rams.

It has not been so hot for concussed quarterbacks Steve Young and Troy Aikman, for perennial powers like the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos, and for beleaguered officials as they weather yet another instant-replay storm.

The best of the nine new head coaches? Easy. Only one has his team in first place. That's Mike Holmgren with the Seattle Seahawks.

If you've got a franchise quarterback, better keep him healthy and happy because they are in short supply.

If you're about to sign a first-round draft pick, avoid certain four-letter words like Kansas City Chiefs president Carl Peterson used last August in front of offensive tackle John Tait. Tait walked and it took more red-faced negotiation to seal the deal.

If you have key injuries, well, forget it. The season's over. Ask last year's Super Bowl teams, the Broncos and Falcons. Or the Jets and Cowboys.

And who's going to invite new Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to dinner? He has already fired a decade's worth of employees.

It's been a wild ride in the NFL, and the season's only half over. Here is a quick review that might have to be reviewed before the day ends.

Midseason awards

MVP: For all their PR men, the NFL couldn't dream up a story like Warner's in St. Louis. He was a quarterbacking vagabond until this season. Then he throws 24 touchdown passes in eight games, gunning one of the league's most feeble franchises to the top of its division. The only question now is whether this incredible saga will continue through the second half.

Offensive player: New England's Drew Bledsoe is having a great season. Washington's Brad Johnson was easily worth three high draft picks. But the Redskins still don't measure up to what Warner has done so far.

Defensive player: Defensive end Kevin Carter deserves a bow for the turnaround in St. Louis, and tackle Warren Sapp is back to Pro Bowl form in Tampa Bay. But the best defensive player in the NFL clearly is Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. He's averaging nearly 14 tackles a game for the league's second-ranked defense. With Terrell Davis hurt, Brett Favre slumping and Barry Sanders gone, Lewis might be the best player in the game this year, period.

Comeback player: Last Nov. 30, San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Bryant Young suffered a non-compound fracture of his right tibia and fibula when hit by teammate Ken Norton's helmet in pursuit of New York Giants quarterback Kent Graham. No one knew if Young would play again, so devastating was the injury. But he hasn't missed a start this year, and has contributed two sacks in an inspirational season. He beats out Ravens running back Errict Rhett and Tennessee quarterback Neil O'Donnell.

Coach: You can make a strong case for the Rams' Dick Vermeil, who was nearly run out of St. Louis last December after a 4-12 season. But the Rams' revamped lineup gives him a lot of firepower to work with. You could make a better case for Detroit's Bobby Ross, who would have the top seed in the NFC if the playoffs started today, despite not having Sanders and injured wide receiver Herman Moore. But the NFC isn't what it used to be. The best coaching job in the NFL this half-season, though, was turned in by the Colts' Jim Mora, who is 6-2 in the toughest division in football and six points away from being unbeaten. That's coming off a 3-13 season a year ago.

Offensive rookie: Running back Edgerrin James deserved to be drafted ahead of Ricky Williams, after all. James, a key part of the Colts' revival, has out-rushed Williams (746-623), has five 100-yard rushing games and is second in the league in yards from scrimmage (1,041) behind Marshall Faulk (1,072). He also leads the league in carries with 196.

Defensive rookie: Two are worthy -- Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey, with four interceptions, and Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse, with 4.5 sacks. Because the Redskins are dead last in total defense and the Titans rank a modest 20th, Kearse gets the close call.

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