When in a rush, teams turn to passing game

October 11, 2004|By KEN MURRAY

THE NFL may be on a record pace for 100-yard rushing games, but the weapon of choice remains the pass.

How else could the Houston Texans come back from a 21-point hole to force overtime against the Minnesota Vikings?

Or the St. Louis Rams wipe out a 17-point deficit in the second half against the Seattle Seahawks?

Or the San Francisco 49ers erase a 16-point deficit against the Arizona Cardinals?

Only one way: the passing game. It's the NFL at its titillating best.

Dramatic comebacks, fashioned by furious passing, were in vogue in Week 5.

Quarterback Tim Rattay had 57 pass attempts - worth 417 yards - as the 49ers overturned the Cardinals, 31-28, in overtime.

Marc Bulger threw 42 times and the Rams scored the final 23 points of the game to beat the previously undefeated Seahawks, 33-27, in overtime.

David Carr heaved 43 pass attempts for 372 yards and three touchdowns to get the Texans to overtime after they trailed 21-0.

But it was left to Daunte Culpepper (50 throws, 396 yards, five touchdowns) to win the game in Houston with a 50-yard touchdown strike to Marcus Robinson in overtime, 34-28. It was Culpepper's second 50-yard touchdown pass of the day.

This is today's NFL: Throw and then throw some more. The rules encourage it, the fans love it, the quarterbacks live for it.

Of the three quarterbacks who attempted at least 50 passes yesterday, only Jacksonville's Byron Leftwich performed in a loss. He threw 54 times in the Jaguars' 34-21 loss in San Diego.

A shootout even broke out in what had been, for most of the afternoon, a defensive struggle.

The Buffalo Bills stunned the New York Jets with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Drew Bledsoe for a late 14-13 lead. But in the end, the Jets' Chad Pennington (42 throws, 304 yards) and kicker Doug Brien (38-yard field goal) pulled out a 16-14 win.

Perhaps the most telling comeback was in Seattle, where the Seahawks held a 24-7 lead at halftime and couldn't put away the Rams. This was a bad sign for a team that most likely will have to go through the Philadelphia Eagles' dangerous offense to reach the Super Bowl.

Bulger, who threw for three touchdowns and three interceptions, sliced through the NFL's No. 1 defense in the fourth quarter like it was a seven-on-seven drill. He had receivers open everywhere, and he didn't miss any of them.

When Bulger needed a field goal in regulation to tie, he found Isaac Bruce in a seam for 27 yards and Dane Looker on an out-pattern for 16. When he needed to go for the win, he went over the top to Shaun McDonald for a 52-yard home-run play that quickly deflated Seattle's 4-0 start.

The Vikings got out of Houston with a win, but barely. They couldn't put away the Texans, either, and that's not a new flaw for Minnesota. In the Vikings' biggest game of the year last season, they let Arizona stage a late comeback and paid for it by forfeiting their playoff berth.

Some teams don't learn the lesson.

Going South

The NFC South produced the past two NFC champions in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers. This year, it's a division of accidents and also-rans.

The Bucs beat perennially underachieving New Orleans, 20-17, for their first win, but they raised more questions than they answered.

Who is their quarterback? Chris Simms, a left-hander who hurt his throwing shoulder? Or Brian Griese, who engineered the only offense the team has shown this year? It certainly isn't former Super Bowl champ Brad Johnson, who was demoted from starter to third quarterback by coach Jon Gruden.

The Saints, with as much talent as any team in the division, fell to 2-3 by losing for the second straight week to a team that hadn't won yet this season. Quarterback Aaron Brooks was so frustrated last week he questioned his future with the team. That's a question better asked of Jim Haslett, the coach.

Then there are the division-leading Atlanta Falcons, who suffered their first defeat under new coach Jim Mora. The 17-10 loss to the Detroit Lions exposed the 4-1 Falcons as a team with no answer to the blitz.

With defensive players swirling around him, Falcons quarterback Michael Vick lost two fumbles and threw an interception to gift-wrap a Detroit touchdown.

The Falcons' offense is so impotent that Mora had to resort to a fake punt (worked) and field goal (didn't) to try to get points. If it weren't for their stout defense, the Falcons would have a losing record, too.

Et cetera

The New England Patriots didn't have receivers Deion Branch, Troy Brown or Bethel Johnson, and quarterback Tom Brady threw for only 76 yards. Still, they squeezed out three touchdowns against one of the league's better defenses to beat Miami, 24-10. ... The Seahawks are 0-6 after the bye week under coach Mike Holmgren. ... Eight quarterbacks threw 41 or more passes yesterday. ... In five games, Indianapolis Colts receiver Brandon Stokley has a career-high 25 catches. His 352 receiving yards are five off a career best. ... Pittsburgh's Duce Staley has three 100-yard rushing games for the first time in his career, and his 108 rushing attempts are 12 more than he had all last season with the Eagles.

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