Dominant to dormant on any given Sunday

Winless Rams' upending of undefeated Raiders highlights league's parity

NFL Week 6 in review

October 15, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

It took six weeks and a third-string quarterback in St. Louis to do it, but when the last of the NFL's unbeatens fell on Sunday, it was further evidence there will be no dominant team again this season.

Unsightly as it was, the Oakland Raiders' 28-13 loss to the previously winless Rams fit neatly into the expanding picture of flawed Super Bowl contenders with bad losses.

Virtually every contending team has one already.

The Miami Dolphins (5-1) surrendered 450 yards and five Trent Green touchdown passes in a 48-30 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4.

The Denver Broncos (4-2) lost their composure, their best cornerback and, soon after, the game to the Ravens in a 34-23 Monday night debacle.

Despite amassing 406 yards on offense, the Philadelphia Eagles (3-2) couldn't make up a 28-10 deficit against the Jacksonville Jaguars and lost, 28-25.

Then there were the New Orleans Saints, an upstart in the NFC. The Saints (5-1) had won their first three games before they were raked by Detroit Lions quarterback Joey Harrington for a 26-21 upset.

Now there are the Raiders (4-1), who faced a reeling opponent in St. Louis on Sunday and couldn't put it away. The Rams not only were working with third-string quarterback Marc Bulger, but also lost left tackle Grant Williams - a replacement for injured Orlando Pace - in the second quarter to a broken leg and dislocated ankle.

With a makeshift line, the Rams still launched Marshall Faulk for 158 rushing yards through the heart of the Raiders' defense. Bulger threw three touchdown passes and the Rams' defense did the rest.

Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon threw two interceptions, had three fumbles and was sacked four times. A season-high 14 penalties further reduced the Raiders' effectiveness.

Even at 1-5, the Rams are dangerous. But the Raiders are not as good as their 4-0 record and 40.5 scoring average. Neither is their defense.

Once again, there is no truly dominant team and another wide-open Super Bowl race. The Rams fell far short. The New England Patriots started 3-0, but porous run defense - they've allowed four 100-yard rushers - and seven Tom Brady interceptions have sent them to three straight losses.

The craziness has even spread to Pittsburgh, where the Steelers (2-3) have broken with tradition and thrown the ball 37 times more than they've run it, and that includes 20 rushes by quarterbacks.

The early line on the 2002 season is the inconsistency of even the upper-echelon teams.

"I mean, the Rams, a team everybody thought for sure would win it this year, just won their first game against a team that hadn't lost a game," New York Giants coach Jim Fassel said yesterday. "It's just the way it is. That's why I said before that the only thing that is consistent about this league now is the inconsistency."

Bill Polian, president of the Indianapolis Colts, has an explanation for the zaniness.

"Injuries and depth," he said last week. "With 32 teams, there is no depth. You're lucky if you have 40 players on the squad that you can count on to perform at a high level. If you have injuries to key people, i.e. Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner, you are swimming upstream."

But not much has really changed, says Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president for football operations.

"That's why they play the games," he said yesterday. "On any given Sunday, any team can beat you if you're not prepared to play, if you don't play your best game. ... That's what makes this league so great. Every team has a chance every Sunday."

Well, except Cincinnati. Only the Bengals are parity-proof.

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