Throughout the league, defense makes its point

ON THE NFL

Gameday

October 17, 2005|By KEN MURRAY

Score one for the defense. Or eight.

You could get whiplash watching defenders turn fumbles and interceptions into touchdowns yesterday. Taking it to the house - the other way - were Kansas City's Sammy Knight, Cincinnati's Odell Thurman, and Jacksonville's Rashean Mathis, to name a few.

The Atlanta Falcons got so caught up in the phenomenon they scored two touchdowns on defense, including a 59-yard return of a blocked field goal by Demorrio Williams, to squeak past the luckless New Orleans Saints, 34-31, in San Antonio. (DeAngelo Hall's 66-yard scamper with a fumble was the other.)

Atlanta obviously needed both those scores, mostly because the Falcons' defense was atrocious when it came to making simple tackles. The Saints cranked out 456 yards of offense, but couldn't withstand another flurry of flags at the end.

Then there were the Detroit Lions, who couldn't beat sleepwalking Carolina even though they returned two interceptions a total of 98 yards for touchdowns, and even after they knocked out Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme on a cheap shot by safety Kenoy Kennedy.

Linebacker Boss Bailey returned a Delhomme pass 34 yards for a score, and Kennedy ran another back 64 yards. Kennedy added injury to insult when he led with his helmet and crunched a sliding, feet-first Delhomme on what became the Panthers' game-winning drive. That hit will cost Kennedy some money and probably another suspension, because he apparently didn't learn anything from the first one with the Denver Broncos.

Maybe the Lions needed 21 penalties called against the other team like last week.

Altogether, six teams collared eight touchdowns off defensive turnarounds in Week 6. Only the Lions were losers. The Jaguars hit the jackpot when Mathis, a cornerback, stepped in front of Pittsburgh's Quincy Morgan to pick off Tommy Maddox's pass in overtime and return it 41 yards to beat the Steelers, 23-17.

Maddox, who replaced injured Ben Roethlisberger, single-handedly lost the game with three interceptions and a ghastly fumble on the Steelers' first possession in overtime. With the Steelers facing a trip to Cincinnati next weekend, Roethlisberger's hyperextended knee already is feeling better.

Other teams who made the most of their touchdown turnovers were the Bengals, who trumped the Tennessee Titans, 31-23, with the help of Thurman's 30-yard interception runback; and the Chiefs, who beat the Washington Redskins on the strength of an 80-yard fumble recovery return by Knight.

A 33-yard return of a fumble recovery by Tampa Bay safety Will Allen was nice, but not necessary, in the Buccaneers' 27-13 win over the Miami Dolphins.

Man bites dog

Newsflash: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn't pull out yesterday's game in Denver. In what has become a rite of passage for the Patriots, Brady directed a late rally after falling behind the Broncos 28-3.

While the Broncos appeared fully capable of coughing up the 25-point lead - as the smile on coach Mike Shanahan's face got tighter and tighter - Brady came up short despite throwing for 299 yards.

Down 28-20, the Patriots had one series with a chance to get a tie, but punted the ball away with 3:46 left and then never got it back. The Broncos' lightning- and-thunder running game of Tatum Bell (114 yards, one touchdown) and Mike Anderson (57 yards, one touchdown) looks more formidable by the week. This week, quarterback Jake Plummer didn't commit any turnovers in a turnover-free game.

At 5-1, the Broncos have notched some impressive victories but ultimately may need to win a playoff game in Indianapolis against the Colts to reach the Super Bowl. After the past two years, that's like expecting the Colts to beat the Patriots in a game that mattered.

As for the Patriots, anyone who discounts Bill Belichick is playing a fool's game. But it's safe to say the skies over Foxborough are threatening.

Hot reads

San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson is the most complete player in the league right now. He dazzled the Oakland Raiders with a touchdown catch, touchdown pass and touchdown run as the Chargers romped, 27-14. How the Chargers have lost three games is a mystery only coach Marty Schottenheimer and general manager A. J. Smith can answer.

With three more yesterday, the Bengals already have 21 take-aways and are plus-16 in turnover margin. Bottom line, they're 14-1 with a positive turnover margin under coach Marvin Lewis.

You can stick a fork in the Minnesota Vikings, 28-3 losers in Chicago and even bigger losers in the public eye. Their sleazy cruise ship scandal assures that new owner Ziggy Wilf will clean house, starting with coach Mike Tice.

What was Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher thinking? He keeps Roethlisberger on a short string in a run-first offense, but lets Maddox throw 28 passes against Jacksonville, which was 29th in run defense.

The more the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Redskins beat up on each other, the more it looks like the Philadelphia Eagles could snatch their sixth straight NFC East title. That'll happen only if Donovan McNabb can play through his injuries, though.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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