S.F. win, Carolina loss expose running games

Using ground early, often carries 49ers

Vikings, Pats show staying power

NFL Week 7 in review

October 21, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Some games resonate louder than others, sometimes because of the matchup and sometimes because of what we learn from them.

In Week 7, for example, we saw what happens when the Carolina Panthers can't run the ball, and what happens when the San Francisco 49ers can. We learned the Minnesota Vikings aren't to be trifled with, and that the New England Patriots should never be counted out.

It's not yet midseason, but it's later than many teams think.

There were a handful of eye-opening games on Sunday. Here's what we think they revealed.

San Fran. 24, Tampa Bay 7

On the advice of defensive lineman Chidi Ahanotu, who played eight years with the Buccaneers, the 49ers ran the ball right up the gut at Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp. They ran to the tune of 212 yards and to the day's most stunning upset.

Running the ball - Garrison Hearst gouged out 117 yards - took away the Bucs' best defensive weapons, their pass rush and pursuit speed. Defensive end Simeon Rice is much better chasing the quarterback than the ball carrier. Rookie tackle Kwame Harris neutralized Rice in a game in which the 49ers ran 41 times.

The 49ers traditionally have been a good running team, but this was by far their best effort on the ground this season. The game would have been more lopsided had not Owen Pochman missed three field-goal tries and Terrell Owens not dropped two passes in the end zone.

Obviously, the game exposed a vulnerability in Tampa to the power running game. And the Bucs' defense, depleted by injuries, isn't nearly as good as last year. In their past three games, their defense has given up yardage totals of 458, 379 and 457. That won't get them back to the Super Bowl.

Tennessee 37, Carolina 17

The Panthers beat Tampa Bay and Indianapolis in overtime but couldn't hang with the Titans. Carolina, in fact, hadn't allowed an opponent to score in the first quarter in its first five games. Sunday, the Titans had a 17-0 lead in the first quarter.

What happened? Tennessee stoned running back Stephen Davis (11 carries, 20 yards) and hit a couple of big plays early. Down 27-3 at halftime, the Panthers had to abandon the run. Quarterback Jake Delhomme threw 49 times for 362 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns, but much of it came after the game was decided.

With Steve McNair playing at an MVP-level and a rejuvenated Tennessee defense, the Titans look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The Panthers will have to fix a defense that has fallen from No. 2 last year to No. 24 this year before they can be considered legitimate.

N. England 19, Miami 13, OT

The Patriots are remarkable in their resiliency and the way they've been able to overcome a myriad of injuries. There can be no doubt that Bill Belichick is one of the best coaches in the league, and you can make a good argument he's the best.

Minus seven starters on defense, and with three rookies in the lineup, the Patriots found a way to outlast the Dolphins. Improbability doesn't matter to them. When the overtime period started, Belichick decided to defend the dirt infield at Pro Player Stadium, so that Miami's Olindo Mare would have to try a game-winning field goal off the bad surface. Since he missed in regulation on the dirt, it was good thinking.

When Mare missed in overtime, it looked brilliant. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have to decide if the absence of a deep passing threat is the fault of quarterback Jay Fiedler or the receivers. It's an issue that isn't going to go away.

Minnesota 28, Denver 20

While the Vikings' win over the Broncos was big, it did come at home against a second-string quarterback and ultimately the third-stringer. To say the Vikings have a favorable schedule is understatement. They have home games against the bedraggled New York Giants and Green Bay Packers next, then go on the road to San Diego and Oakland.

It's not until a Nov. 30 date at St. Louis that the Vikings could even be underdogs. The toughest game on their schedule looks like Dec. 20, a Saturday, at home against Kansas City.

Could it be a Super Bowl preview? Perhaps. The Vikings have two capable quarterbacks, a dynamic big-play receiver and an aggressive, blitzing defense that is playing with a lead and forcing turnovers. That's an awfully nice combination to have.

Best and worst

Highlights and lowlights from Week 7:

Best catch: Terry Glenn, Cowboys. Out of room to maneuver, Glenn stretched for a Quincy Carter pass at the back of the end zone and barely got his toes down in bounds for a perfect 20-yard touchdown.

Best catch and run: Terrell Owens, 49ers. Although he dropped two passes in the end zone, Owens took a short toss from Jeff Garcia and rumbled 75 yards through the Bucs for a big second-quarter touchdown.

Best catch and ad lib: Randy Moss, Vikings. On the final play of the first half, Moss came back to make a catch at the Denver 15, then heaved the ball blindly over his head - ruled a lateral - to a charging Moe Williams, who completed a 59-yard touchdown.

Worst quarterback line: Mike McMahon, Lions. On a day filled with bad quarterback lines, McMahon had a more miserable day than Atlanta's Kurt Kittner. He completed just five of 20 passes for 51 yards and an interception after replacing Joey Harrington in the second quarter of a 31-point loss.

Worst offensive line: Broncos. They surrendered five sacks to the Vikings and got Steve Beuerlein hurt (dislocated right pinkie) when Kevin Williams fell on top of him in the third quarter. With starter Jake Plummer also hurt, Denver is down to former Arena League quarterback Danny Kanell.

Worst kicking line: Olindo Mare, Dolphins. Mare had two chances to win the game for Miami. Both kicks were 35-yarders, both in the dirt of Pro Player Stadium - his home field. He kicked the first low (it was blocked) and pushed the second wide right.

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