Prodigious passers have 300-yard ruling hand

September 27, 2004|By KEN MURRAY

WHAT THE NFL wants, the NFL usually gets.

More offense? Tweak the illegal contact rule and make those miserly defensive backs pay.

More scoring? Make the dastardly defense play with nine guys.

Wait, that's next year's rule.

Whoa, did the Indianapolis Colts just score again?

Offense ruled the day in Week 3, when big plays fell in hurricane-like torrents and any quarterback worth his salt threw for 300 yards.

In the first two weeks of the season, a total of seven quarterbacks threw for 300 yards or more. In the 13 games yesterday, no less than seven quarterbacks hit the passer's trifecta.

Has there been a more entertaining game than the Colts' raucous 45-31 triumph over the Green Bay Packers? Ever?

The first half alone generated eight touchdowns, 52 points and 573 yards in offense.

Not that the New Orleans Saints' 28-25 overtime win against the St. Louis Rams was bad, or the Minnesota Vikings' 27-22 rubout of the Chicago Bears boring.

But how to you top Peyton Manning vs. Brett Favre in the ultimate quarterback shootout? Last week, it was suggested that the game would serve as a passing of the torch from the Packers' aging gunslinger, Favre, to the Colts' young but prodigious playmaker, Manning.

In the first half at the RCA Dome, Manning virtually ripped the torch out of Favre's hands, much the way Colts rookie defensive back Jason David ripped the ball out of the hands of Packers receiver Javon Walker in the fourth quarter with Green Bay driving for a tying touchdown.

David's play -- a defensive play, of all things -- turned the tide decisively for the Colts, who cashed in one final touchdown, an Edgerrin James' plunge, to finish off the Packers.

Manning finished with 393 passing yards and five touchdowns, all in the first half. Favre closed with 358, four touchdowns and a hamstring injury, presumably not enough to derail his league record streak of 192 regular-season starts.

But face it, Manning has a lot more weapons than Favre. The Colts' Reggie Wayne established himself as a big-time receiver with 11 catches worth 184 yards. Former Raven Brandon Stokley had eight for 110. Marvin Harrison, one of the league's best receivers, had a measly five for 65.

We're talking Arena League -- or maybe PlayStation -- numbers here on a 100-yard field.

The Packers answered with Walker, whose breakout game featured 11 catches, 198 yards and three touchdowns.

Imagine what the rest of the league would be saying about the Colts today if James hadn't fumbled twice in the red zone in New England on opening night? The Patriots may be going for the all-time win-streak record, but they've got the Colts on their radar down the road and they can't look forward to that renewal of hostilities.

Other teams that bear watching -- primarily because of their offensive clout -- are the Philadelphia Eagles, the Vikings and maybe even the New Orleans Saints.

The Eagles put away the previously unbeaten Detroit Lions with remarkable ease, 30-13, as quarterback Donovan McNabb passed for 356 yards. McNabb threw another touchdown pass to Terrell Owens and hit seven other receivers along the way.

Three weeks into the season, the Eagles look unstoppable. Like the Colts.

The Vikings, coming off a loss in Philadelphia, beat the Bears behind Daunte Culpepper's 360 passing yards and two scores. Culpepper, like McNabb, has thrown for eight touchdown passes already.

In St. Louis, where coach Mike Martz looks more like a lame duck every week, the Saints hung a tough loss on his Rams when John Carney kicked five field goals, two of more than 50 yards.

Obviously, the Saints need to get in the end zone a little more, but quarterback Aaron Brooks threw for 316 yards on a day when he didn't have his best weapon, running back Deuce McAllister.

Martz, meanwhile, risked everything, including an immediate firing, when he decided to go for it on fourth-and-one at his 41 two minutes into overtime. Only by the grace of Marshall Faulk did he survive that bad call. Faulk slithered right as two defenders closed from his left and got the first down. But it's that kind of senseless play-calling bravado that will get Martz fired.

And to think, the Rams once were on the cutting edge of the NFL's offense-at-all-costs crusade. Now they're bringing up the rear.

It wasn't all offense yesterday, of course. The 49ers suffered their first shutout in 420 games and 27 years in a brutal 34-0 loss to Seattle. The Atlanta Falcons out-gummed the Arizona Cardinals in what was probably the ugliest 6-3 game in history. There were nine fumbles, eight turnovers and 11 sacks.

Then there were the Jacksonville Jaguars, the antidote to offense. Whatever coach Jack Del Rio learned in Baltimore during his stint as linebackers coach, he has taken to Jacksonville.

The Jaguars have scored a grand total of 35 points in three games this year -- that's an average of just under 12 per game -- and yet, they're 3-0. That's good defense, not to mention timely offense.

In two of the Jaguars' three wins, they scored the winning touchdown with under 10 seconds to play. In the other victory, they pried a fumble loose from Denver's Quentin Griffin at their own 23 just as the Broncos were getting ready to kick a game-winning field goal.

Defense is nice, but we'll take the Packers-Colts any day.

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