Patriots, E. Smith still running into history books

October 04, 2004|By KEN MURRAY

ON A SUNDAY when the road was as hospitable as it's ever going to get, there were revelations aplenty in the NFL yesterday.

We found out, for instance, that Brett Favre can still throw for touchdowns even when his brain is scrambled like an egg; that Emmitt Smith still has the heart, if not the youthful body, of a champion; and that it takes more than the Buffalo blitz to unsettle Tom Brady.

The top three stories, more or less, of Week 4:

1. The New England Patriots dismantled the Bills and Drew Bledsoe in Buffalo, 31-17, to tie the NFL record with their 18th consecutive victory.

The Patriots, who've won two of the past three Super Bowls, can make another claim to dynasty when - not if - they beat the hard-luck and hapless Miami Dolphins next week in Foxboro, Mass., for win No. 19 in a row. God help Jay Fiedler, or whichever quarterback the Dolphins throw out there, because it won't be very pretty.

Yesterday, the Patriots took the Bills' best shot and stuffed it back in their face. Buffalo's game plan was to blitz Brady from every direction. Didn't work. Brady threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns and was as cool as ice doing it. The Bills knocked him down, but never sacked him.

Meanwhile, the Patriots got to Bledsoe, their former teammate and franchise quarterback, for seven sacks. It was Bledsoe's fourth-quarter fumble on a blitz by Tedy Bruschi that led to a 68-yard touchdown return by Richard Seymour. That made it official.

2. At 35, Emmitt Smith might be ancient by the football calendar. But the league's all-time rushing champion turned back a page to the glory days in leading the Arizona Cardinals to a 34-10 win over the sleepwalking New Orleans Saints.

Smith ran for 127 yards and a touchdown, threw his first NFL pass for another TD and caught a pass for 18 yards.

It was the 77th 100-yard rushing game in his career, tying the late, great Walter Payton.

Smith may not have much left in December running all year behind the Cardinals' sad-sack offensive line, but at least they'll have something to remember him for in the desert.

3. The Green Bay Packers lost at Lambeau Field again, and the surprise is, it's not all that surprising anymore. They staggered through a 14-7 loss to the New York Giants, who tried valiantly to give the game back (Steve Christie missed three field-goal attempts, for starters.)

That's the sixth loss in their past 12 home games and the first three-game losing streak under coach-general manager Mike Sherman. At 1-3, the Packers face another uphill climb to the NFC North title they took in Week 17 from Minnesota last year. The Packers started 3-4 last year.

What may be more alarming than the slow start is the fact Favre, their future Hall of Fame quarterback, is getting hurt on a regular basis now. Last week, he took a knee to his left thigh. Yesterday, he was dinged when he was knocked to the ground by the Giants' William Joseph, hitting the back of his head on the turf.

Groggy with a concussion, Favre ran onto the field three plays later, waved off Doug Pederson, and then threw a wobbly 28-yard touchdown pass to Javon Walker. It extended Favre's streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 29, but it also was his last play. The Packers rightfully put him back on the bench and let Pederson and Craig Nall finish the game while he cleared his head.

Losing their auras

The Packers aren't the only 2003 playoff team that's fallen on hard times. The Tennessee Titans, playing without quarterback Steve McNair, lost in San Diego to the Chargers, 38-17, and the Carolina Panthers were beaten at home by the Atlanta Falcons, 27-10.

With McNair nursing a bruised sternum, Billy Volek, who once played ahead of David Carr at Fresno State, threw 58 passes. He completed 39 of them for 278 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but it didn't prevent the Titans from falling to last place in the AFC South at 1-3.

As fate would have it, the Titans meet the Packers next Monday night in a clash of major disappointments. But the Titans have history to fall back on. Two years ago, they started 1-4, then won 10 of their next 11 to make the playoffs and reach the second round. At least, that's what coach Jeff Fisher will be selling this week in Nashville. The Titans may not be buying.

The Panthers dropped to 1-2 with their fourth straight loss to Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Injuries are catching up with them. Quarterback Jake Delhomme already has lost his favorite receiver, Steve Smith, for most of the season, and his workhorse running back, Stephen Davis, for at least another week.

Delhomme doesn't look too solid himself, throwing for five interceptions already. Chemistry being such a fleeting thing, it doesn't seem likely the Panthers are capable of another Super Bowl run this year.

Et cetera

Six of 10 road favorites won in Week 4 . ... The Jacksonville Jaguars (3-1) dominated Indianapolis in yards (408-337) and time of possession (35:33 to 24:27), but couldn't convert a critical fourth-and-one play late in the game and effectively surrendered the AFC South lead to the Colts (3-1). ... There were only two 300-yard passers yesterday, but 10 100-yard rushers, led by the Giants' Tiki Barber with 182. ... The Titans have been outscored 50-19 in the fourth quarter this season.

NEXT WEEK

Giants (3-1) at Cowboys (2-1): The wild-card chase is on in the NFC East. The surprising Giants have won three in a row, and the Cowboys have been anything but impressive.

Vikings (2-1) at Texans (2-2): The Vikings are a league-best 12-3 after a bye, while the Texans have the first two-game winning streak in their short history.

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