Losses by Eagles and Bucs put NFC into further flux

Gameday

October 31, 2005|By KEN MURRAY

Let's try to make some sense of the insane NFC as it stands, or staggers, today.

The best team in the conference, the Philadelphia Eagles, got crushed in Denver yesterday, giving up 49 points and 564 yards to a Broncos team that couldn't finish games.

The team that started Week 8 with the best record in the conference, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was stunned by the San Francisco 49ers, a club many think is the weakest in the league, 15-10.

The Chicago Bears scored an overtime victory over the Detroit Lions, 19-13, to assume control of the NFC North, where the prospect of an 8-8 division champion grows stronger by the week.

In an emotional tribute to their late owner, Wellington Mara, the New York Giants exposed the Washington Redskins as Halloween bumpkins, 36-0. Don't look now, but a Giants team that went 6-10 a year ago might be good enough to go deep in the playoffs.

To cap it all off, there were the St. Louis Rams, Team Pass. The Rams not only changed coaches and quarterbacks this month, they changed their M.O. In beating the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-21, they ran 33 times and passed 21. Steven Jackson was their best weapon, rushing for 179 yards. Now we really know that Mike Martz is out.

To review, this is one wild and crazy conference. The team that gets to Detroit in February for the Super Bowl is probably lying low in the grass right now, carrying as many as three losses.

With that in mind, here's a look at the aforementioned oddities.

Eagles: Quarterback Donovan McNabb can protest all he wants that his sports hernia and other injuries have not hampered him. The truth is, he is getting worse every week. Yesterday he started 0-for-12 in the passing game, was 4-for-18 at the half and finished 12-for-34.

His quasi-comeback in the second half - the Eagles got within 28-21 of the Broncos before bowing, 49-21 - was more a result of Denver's inability to close out a game than anything else.

The Eagles looked listless most of the day, and they got off to another slow start. They've been outscored 62-14 in the first quarter this season. In the Eagles' first two possessions of each game, McNabb is a combined 12-for-36 for 159 yards.

Not exactly Super Bowl caliber, right? Even worse, the Eagles' once-reliable defense has been throttled for more than 350 total yards in four of seven games. No wonder Terrell Owens wants to sell his New Jersey house.

Buccaneers: Jon Gruden's team fashioned a nice 5-1 start on a cushy schedule. That ended in San Francisco. The bad news is that Chris Simms doesn't look ready to quarterback a playoff team. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble as the Bucs were beaten by a team that couldn't get in the end zone.

That's not all. The schedule will get a lot more difficult in the second half of the season, when the Bucs have to play the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers twice each in division games, and visit the New England Patriots. They only play one team - the New Orleans Saints, twice - with a losing record.

So much for 5-1.

Bears: By sweeping the Lions this season, Chicago has a stranglehold on first place. The Minnesota Vikings were already wasted before they lost quarterback Daunte Culpepper to a knee injury. The Green Bay Packers are closing the Brett Favre era on a ghastly note. Neither team will rebound this season.

So that leaves the Bears, by default. Kyle Orton gave more evidence yesterday he will be a capable quarterback. He threw for 230 yards, albeit with the awful pass or five tossed into the mix.

Still, the Bears' victory ended appropriately, with an interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Charles Tillman. Is there more magic in store for Chicago?

Giants: This team could be scary. Quarterback Eli Manning struggled through a 12-for-31 game, but got picked up by Tiki Barber's 206-yard rushing performance that honored Mara's memory.

The Redskins were never in this game, and Mark Brunell looked as slow and old as he did a year ago. The Giants get the 49ers - out west - and the Vikings before a test against the Eagles on Nov. 20.

Rams: The team's soap opera season doesn't appear to have a rainbow's end in sight. Joe Vitt is simply getting an extended audition with a team on the slide.

Hot reads

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of seeing Favre cross the line of scrimmage, throw an illegal forward pass and then laugh about it. It happened in last year's playoff loss to Minnesota, and it happened again yesterday. A 1-6 record isn't supposed to be funny.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin snookered Joe Gibbs when he sent backup quarterback Tim Hasselbeck out on the punt team as backfield protector. When Hasselbeck jumped behind center like a quarterback, the Redskins had to waste a timeout. They didn't see him coming?

In a battle of flawed Fresno State quarterbacks, the Houston Texans' David Carr outplayed the Cleveland Browns' Trent Dilfer for a 19-16 win. Dilfer contributed his ninth turnover in the past four games to help the Texans along the way.

In New England, thanks to the return of Tedy Bruschi, the season started last night.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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