Rise of Vikings, fall of Raiders open eyes

Weak `D', road woes have Oakland at shocking 2-3

Parcells rallying Cowboys

NFL Week 5 in review

October 07, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The Minnesota Vikings earned their bye this Sunday after five weeks of heavy lifting. Coming against soft touches or not, their 5-0 start has sent shock waves coursing through the NFC.

Likewise, no one anticipated a 3-1 launch for the Dallas Cowboys. But Bill Parcells is notorious for quick turnarounds and Dallas is hot on the Vikings' trail as comeback team of 2003.

There have been plenty of surprises so far, none bigger than the seeming demise of the AFC champion Oakland Raiders. Sunday's stunning second-half collapse and 24-21 loss to the previously winless Chicago Bears wasn't the first sign of trouble, either. It's been brewing since the Raiders lost at Tennessee in Week 1.

Here are The Sun's biggest surprises of the young season.

1. Oakland (2-3): The Raiders are coming apart at the seams. They can't stop the run on defense, and their once-vaunted passing game looks predictable and slow. Quarterback Rich Gannon obviously misses injured wide receiver Jerry Porter more than he will admit.

As troubled as the offense is - scoring is down by a touchdown, from 28.1 points a game last season to 21.6 this year - it's the defense that is most alarming. The Raiders have been trampled for 612 rushing yards the past three games. That's 204 per game and 5.4 a carry.

They are 0-3 on the road and this week make a trip to Cleveland. They lost four games in a row last season and still made the Super Bowl, but that's not going to happen again.

2. Minnesota (5-0): The Vikings have beaten Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and Atlanta, five teams with a combined record of 8-16. While that might not be an impressive list, the Vikings' turnover numbers are startling. Minnesota's plus-10 turnover ratio is tied for the NFL lead with Seattle, and its 15 takeaways tie Kansas City for the league high.

That's a potent push for an offense that's back on track now that wide receiver Randy Moss is serious again. Moss has 29 catches, six touchdowns and a 17.8 average gain this season. With starting quarterback Daunte Culpepper injured, journeyman Gus Frerotte weighed in the last two weeks with six touchdown passes and only one interception.

This surge actually started late last season, when the Vikings won their final three games. Moss had at least 100 receiving yards in each of those wins.

3. Dallas (3-1): Smoke and mirrors or some Parcells magic? The Cowboys have won twice in Parcells' former home in the Meadowlands against the New York Giants and Jets, and handled Arizona easily. Nothing real surprising there.

What stands out, though, is that the Cowboys have gone from 30th in the league in total offense a year ago to first under Parcells. Quarterback Quincy Carter has been serviceable with a 56.3 completion percentage. But he's making big plays, as seen in his 8.18 yard average gain per pass attempt.

The Cowboys face an acid test this Sunday at home against the Philadelphia Eagles.

4. Pittsburgh (2-3): After preaching ball security for years, the Steelers have become careless with it this season. Quarterback Tommy Maddox already has tossed eight interceptions and the team is minus-four in turnovers. The Steelers have had 131 runs compared to 187 passes, very un-Pittsburgh-like, too.

Having lost by 21, 17 and 20 points, the Steelers travel to Denver next. That's not a good place to go when you're trying to find your identity.

5. New York Jets (0-4): They're just trying to find a win, and they'll make another attempt this Sunday at home against the Buffalo Bills. The Jets' fall from AFC East champ to bottom-five material is not so surprising, though, given their offseason free-agent defections and the preseason injury to quarterback Chad Pennington.

Pennington, who broke his left wrist in August, started throwing for the first time yesterday. His replacement, veteran Vinny Testaverde, is in the final stages of his career.

Testaverde is completing 63.8 percent of his passes, but the Jets have scored just three touchdowns in four games and are 1-for-8 in the red zone, worst in the league. And, oh yes, they're last in the league rushing the ball and last defending the rush.

Best and worst

Highlights and lowlights from Week 5:

Best escape: Dante Hall. The Chiefs' kick returner extraordinaire retreated inside his 5-yard line on a punt return against Denver, made seven Broncos miss and needed just one block to complete a 93-yard touchdown.

Worst wakeup call: Emmitt Smith. After netting minus-1 yard in six carries against his former teammates in Dallas, the future Hall of Famer now knows he made a bad decision joining the Cardinals.

Best coaching call: Norv Turner. The Dolphins offensive coordinator knew the Giants would follow Ricky Williams anywhere, so having Williams hand off to James McKnight on a reverse was perfect. McKnight went untouched for a 68-yard touchdown, the key play in Miami's 23-10 win.

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