Of all the good teams that lost in Week 1, the St. Louis Rams have the most reason for concern about long-term implications.
It wasn't just quarterback Kurt Warner's latest concussion or his recurring fumbles. It wasn't just coach Mike Martz forgetting about running back Marshall Faulk or not knowing about Warner's condition. And it wasn't just Martz eschewing field goals in the fourth quarter when the Rams desperately needed points, looking instead for the big strike.
It was all of the above and more. It was the deeper sense of direction the Rams have lost. It was the questions that came out of an unsightly 23-13 loss to the New York Giants. Who is their best quarterback, after all? Did the concussion contribute to Warner's tepid performance or was it a convenient excuse? In hindsight, was the two-time Most Valuable Player the beneficiary of the "Greatest Show on Turf" or the lightning rod behind it?
And what in the name of Vince Lombardi was Martz thinking last Sunday, anyway? He didn't even suspect Warner might be hurt after the beating his quarterback took and the five fumbles he coughed up in the first half. It wasn't until the third quarter that Martz learned Warner had been hurt. Then, despite an initial impulse to remove him, the coach left Warner in to absorb even more punishment and fumble again.
No wonder Warner needed an overnight hospital stay. No wonder Martz, in a precautionary - and late - move to protect Warner from further injury, declared Marc Bulger the starter for today's home game against the San Francisco 49ers.
By Martz's count, Warner made five errors in his first seven passes against the Giants. "And he hasn't done that in his whole time here," Martz said.
So why didn't someone on the Rams' sideline pick up on Warner's addled state of mind, given that evidence? And how did the team doctor allow Warner to return to the game in the second half after realizing he had been hurt?
Warner's health has become a major issue in St. Louis. Last year, it was primarily his hand injury. But he had a concussion at the end of the 2000 season that still causes him to experience some sensitivity to light.
Beyond health, Warner has lost his past eight starts for the Rams, going back to Super Bowl XXXVI. That's not coincidence. Bulger went 6-1 for the Rams in Warner's absence. There is reason to believe Warner's teammates preferred Bulger a year ago. Already, other players in the league are talking about Warner in the past tense.
49ers defensive end Chidi Ahanotu, who spent the 2001 season with the Rams, was talking about the St. Louis quarterbacks the other day.
"He's reminiscent of Kurt Warner," Ahanotu said of Bulger. "He looks like Kurt when Kurt was on. They have the same demeanor. He doesn't get rattled too much."
AROUND THE LEAGUE
San Diego's enigma
Maybe the Ravens are better off without enigmatic receiver David Boston, who canceled his free-agent trip to Baltimore in March and signed with the San Diego Chargers instead.
Already, Boston is a raising eyebrows in San Diego. After catching only two passes for 20 yards in the opener, he skipped practice last week because of a bruised heel and basically scratched himself from today's game against the Denver Broncos.
Boston, who cultivated a reputation for being a high-maintenance player with the Arizona Cardinals, said he needs 10 days of rest and rehabilitation to be 100 percent healthy. "I don't want to go out there at 60 percent and just be a decoy," he said. "I'd rather just sit out a game if I have to and come back full speed."
Coach Marty Schottenheimer said he believes Boston has a soft-tissue problem. "I think David's concern is he doesn't want it to be a long-term thing," Schottenheimer said.
Price draws a crowd
In Buffalo, Peerless Price caught 94 passes and nine touchdowns last season as the team's No. 2 receiver to Eric Moulds. Traded to the Atlanta Falcons, Price now has a keen appreciation for being the No. 1 receiver.
In a win over the Dallas Cowboys, he caught just two passes against double coverage - and complained about it.
"It was frustrating being double-teamed all day," he said. "Sometimes they doubled me straight up. Sometimes they disguised it. ... I'm confident that the coaching staff will be able to move me around so I don't get double-teamed so much."
But probably not today against the Washington Redskins. No. 2 receiver Brian Finneran is out with a broken hand and will be replaced by Quentin McCord, a third-year player who spent part of 2002 on the practice squad.
New England's mystery
Three days after the controversy of releasing captain Lawyer Milloy culminated in a 31-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked again about the reasons behind the move. He wasn't biting this time, though.
"We are past it," Belichick said. "We had the autopsy. We are past it. You can't kill it again. How many times can you pump bullets into a dead body?"